Youth justice campaigners round on Crime and Security Bill

Proposed laws which would allow the fingerprints and DNA profiles of young offenders to be held on record indefinitely would violate human rights and marginalise vulnerable young people, according to campaigners.

The Standing Committee on Youth Justice (SCYJ), which numbers leading prison reformists and children’s charities among its members, has said several proposals in the Crime and Security Bill, “threaten children’s safety, compromise their welfare and risk inappropriately criminalising them”.

The bill, which is due to have its second reading in parliament today (18 January), proposes four categories under which the fingerprints, footwear samples and DNA profiles of under-18s can be stored.

These are: indefinitely for those convicted of a serious offence or more than one minor offence; five years for those convicted of a single minor offence; three years for those arrested but unconvicted; and six years for samples from 16- and 17-year-olds arrested for but unconvicted of a serious offence.

The Howard League for Penal Reform, one of the SCYJ’s members, warned that the measures would “isolate vulnerable young people” and create “an incentive for police to wrongfully arrest a young person suspected of a crime and procure their DNA”.

In a briefing paper the SCYJ said DNA samples, “should not be taken from children following arrest, charge or conviction, unless this is required for the purposes of investigating the offence for which the child was arrested”, and should be “retained for no longer than is required for the purposes of investigating the offence for which the child was arrested.”

The SCYJ claimed the bill did not satisfy a 2008 judgment by the European Court of Human Rights, which found current practice in England and Wales regarding the retention of DNA data violated article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The judgment highlighted the damaging impact of data retention on children and young people.

The SCYJ also criticised clauses in the bill which would criminalise the use of mobile phones in young offender institutions and make a Parenting Order automatic upon breach of a child’s Asbo (antisocial behavioural order).

Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, called the bill “another badly conceived attempt by the government to look tough on crime”, adding that many provisions in the bill “will do nothing to further prevent crime but simply widen the net of an already bloated criminal justice system”.

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