Inappropriate prison placements for children linked to mental illness

Children and young people with mental health needs are being driven to self-harm by being inappropriately placed in prison, the chief inspector of prisons has warned.

In an annual report critical of the lack of safeguards for children and young people in prison, Anne Owers cites the number of inappropriate placements as a “major concern”, adding that prison “may exacerbate, or even trigger mental illness such as disruptive behaviour or self-harm”.

The report states that, last year, 1,324 15- to 17-year-olds and 4,330 18- to 21-year-olds were involved in self-harm incidents. It also reveals that a third of juveniles and a quarter of young offenders had suffered bullying and felt “unsafe”.

Frances Crook, director of penal reform charity Howard League, expressed concern about the findings and repeated the charity’s call for an end to children being held in prison.

“The recent independent inquiry into the use of physical restraint, solitary confinement and forcible strip searching of children in prisons by Lord Carlile found that many prisons provide little chance for outdoor exercise. Children and young people are almost bound to turn their energies destructively in on themselves or onto others,” Crook said.

Owers’ report cites the lack of provision for young offenders as another major issue. Only 45% of 18- to 21-year-olds in the 10 young offender institutions holding young adults that were inspected last year thought anything had been done during their time in custody to help prevent them re-offending on release.

Owers warned that, without additional targeted resources and the introduction of new specific standards, this situation would only get worse once the legally protected status of 18- to 21-year-olds ended and they could be held in any prison.

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