Children's Rights - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents


Memorandum submitted by the Howard League for Penal Reform

  The Howard League for Penal Reform welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the Joint Committee on Human Rights inquiry on children's rights.

INTRODUCTION

  The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. In 1947 we became one of the first non-governmental organisations to be granted consultative status with the United Nations and have many years experience of monitoring the application of international treaties ratified by the UK government, including the UN convention on the rights of the child (UNCRC). In 2007 we published an independent submission to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (enclosed). Our report, Punishing Children: a survey of criminal responsibility and approaches across Europe, published in 2008 is also enclosed.

  In 2002, we set up a legal department to represent children and young people in the penal system, following a successful judicial review against the Home Office that forced it to recognise that the Children Act 1989 protects children in prison. The Howard League legal team has represented hundreds of children and has a track record of success in forcing improvements to prison conditions.

  In 2006, we published an independent inquiry, conducted by Lord Carlile of Berriew QC into the use of physical restraint, solitary confinement and forcible strip searching of children in prisons, secure training centres and local authority secure children's home.[224]

  Our submission is based on our extensive research and our legal work with children in detention in prisons, secure training centres and local authority secure children's homes.

1.  CHILDREN IN DETENTION

  Lord Carlile of Berriew QC, who conducted the independent inquiry with the assistance of an eminent expert advisory group, found that some of the treatment of children in custody, such as the use of restraint, forcible strip-searching and solitary confinement, would in any other setting be considered abusive and could trigger a child protection investigation.

1(a)   The use of restraint

  The Howard League for Penal Reform remains concerned about the widespread use of restraint in prisons and privately run secure training centres (STCs). We also have grave concerns about the continuing use of pain compliant techniques, which used in any other circumstances could trigger a child protection or police investigation.

  Evidence obtained by the Howard League for Penal Reform under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 found that between October 2006 and June 2008, restraint was used 6,001 times on children in prison, 4,380 times on children in STCs and 3,695 times on children in local authority secure children's homes.

  Despite the fact that only eight per cent of the juvenile population in custody are held in STCs, 31 per cent of all restraint incidents between October 2006 and June 2008 occurred in these privately run jails. Children in STCs were also the most likely to be injured during restraint. STCs accounted for 44 per cent of all injuries after restraint. 18 per cent of restraint incidents resulted in injuries in STCs, compared to 14 per cent in prisons and six per cent in local authority secure children's homes.

  The Howard League for Penal Reform is concerned that restraint is being disproportionately used on girls in detention. Girls comprise just seven per cent of the population of children in custody yet 20 per cent of restraints were carried out on girls between October 2006 and June 2008.

  The Howard League for Penal Reform condemned the government's recent decision to allow private security companies to continue using pain on children as young as 12. We believe the practice of inflicting pain is likely to put children in danger and could result in serious injury or death, as has already happened with two children in STCs.

1(b)   Deaths in custody

  Since January 2002, six children have died in penal custody, including four children in prison and two children in STCs. The youngest child to die was just 14 years old. One child, Gareth Myatt, died following restraint by staff in Rainsbrook STC. The inquiry conducted by Lord Carlile of Berriew QC and published by The Howard League for Penal Reform was launched in the wake of the death of Gareth Myatt.

  The SP inquiry is investigating the treatment of SP, a girl who repetitively tried to take her own life and injure herself while in prison custody but was placed in solitary confinement, prison cells usually designed for punishment. The decision to conduct an inquiry into SP's treatment resulted from the government's acceptance of the argument put forward by the Howard League that the level and seriousness of SP's life threatening self-harm whilst in prison triggered the state's obligation to investigate under article 2 of the ECHR. The Howard League for Penal Reform has represented SP for five years and is representing her at the inquiry.

  The Howard League for Penal Reform is concerned about the deaths of children in custody and also the high levels of self-harm. We believe that the use of prison custody and privately-managed STCs for children is inappropriate and may be dangerous.

2.  THE PRACTICAL IMPACT OF THE WITHDRAWAL OF THE UK'S RESERVATION ON CHILDREN IN CUSTODY WITH ADULTS TO THE UNCRC

  The Howard League for Penal Reform welcomes the fact that the UK government has withdrawn its reservation on article 37(c) of the UNCRC. This does have practical implications for the YJB and the Prison Service as the Howard League for Penal Reform has evidence that some girls aged 17 in prison are being placed on adult detoxification wings in prison as there are no separate facilities for girls.

  The Howard League legal team has recently made a formal complaint in relation a 17 year old client in this position. Our client was told that there were places available on the juvenile unit on site but was placed with adult women prisoners because there were no detoxification facilities on the juvenile unit. She was the only person under 21.

  The prison argued that it acted in our client's best interests in placing her in the adult section since she was able to access specialist medical services which were not available in the juvenile section. However, we consider the provision of such facilities only on the adult wing and subsequent placing of children who need those services on the adult wing to be a clear, unjustified and deliberate breach of the requirement to separate children from adults. It is foreseeable that children will have urgent need of substance misuse services including 24 hour nursing care and therefore arrangements should be made to ensure that these are available on the juvenile wing.

3.  THE CRIMINALISATION OF CHILDREN

  England and Wales detains more children than any other country in Western Europe. We have one of the lowest ages of criminal responsibility, set at 10 years old, and lock up children as young as 12. On 30 January 2009 there were 2,680 children in custody, including three children aged 12, 30 children aged 13 and 123 children aged 14. There are also a range of non-custodial penalties specifically aimed at children under the age of criminal responsibility, such as child safety orders. Our report, Punishing Children, outlines our criminal justice system in relation to children.

  The Howard League for Penal Reform believes children are not being held in custody for the shortest possible time. Since the Criminal Justice Act 2003, a range of new sentences designed to ensure "public protection" have been available for children, including indefinite sentences for public protection. These sentences fail to take into account the development of the child and may have a detrimental impact on mental health.[225] There are currently 41 children in custody serving indeterminate sentences.

  The Howard League for Penal Reform believes that the government response to children's behaviour is primarily punitive and fails to take account of the best interests of the child.

CONCLUSIONS

  The Howard League for Penal Reform is seriously concerned about the treatment and conditions for children in penal custody and has evidence that their rights are often ignored and at times blatantly disregarded.

We do hope that you find the two reports enclosed useful. The Howard League for Penal Reform would welcome the opportunity to provide oral evidence to the inquiry if required.

February 2009








224   The Howard League for Penal Reform (2006) The Lord Carlile of Berriew QC: an independent inquiry into the use of physical restraint, solitary confinement and forcible strip searching of children in prisons, secure training centres and local authority secure children's homes. Back

225   The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health (2008) In the Dark: the mental health implications of imprisonment for public protection, available at www.scmh.org.uk/pdfs/In_the_dark.pdf Back


 
previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2009
Prepared 20 November 2009