Children's Rights - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents


Memorandum submitted by the Prison Reform Trust

CRIMINAL DAMAGE: HOW INNOCENT CHILDREN ARE LOCKED UP ON REMAND

KEY FACTS

    —  Three quarters of under 18 year olds locked up on remand by magistrates' court are either acquitted or given a custodial sentence. —  One fifth of population of children in custody in England and Wales are locked up on remand—approximately 600 at any one time—  The number of children imprisoned on remand has increased by 41% since 2000

    —  95% of those remanded in custody have pleaded innocent and are awaiting trial, 5% are awaiting sentence.

    —  A key alternative to custodial remands—remand to non secure local authority accommodation—has declined 43% in the last four years

    —  In most areas of England and Wales there is no specialist accommodation for under 18 year olds on bail or on RLAA

    —  17 year olds on bail who do not have a suitable home address, are usually housed in bed and breakfast accommodation or hostels with minimal supervision.

    —  Children are routinely detained in police cells overnight despite PACE law which mandates the use of local authority accommodation for children under 17.

    —  Children can be and are locked up on remand by magistrates with no youth court experience or specialist training.

    —  Black and Black British children are almost twice as likely to be locked up on remand as white children.

    —  29% of boys and 44% of girls remanded in custody have been "looked after" by their local authority.

    —  If a child is detained overnight by the police, the Youth Offending Team and Defence representative often have only a couple of hours in which to talk to and assess the child, prepare a bail package and present this to the court.

  Adam Rickwood committed suicide in August 2004, hours after being restrained by staff in Hassockfield Secure Training Centre. At 14, he was the youngest child to die in penal custody in the last 25 years. Adam was on remand charged with wounding a man—a crime he said he did not do. The secure unit to which Adam was sent was 150 miles from his home. In his last letter to his family he wrote "I need to be at home and with my family I will never get into trouble again in my life. I will do anything to be with you's but if people try to stop that I will flip". Adam had a history of self harm and of involvement with social services. In his background he was typical of many of the children locked up on remand: vulnerable, with emotional and behavioural problems.

  If Adam had been charged at the same age just five years earlier he would not have been in custody, because the courts were not allowed to lock up those under 15 on remand. But in 1999 the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act was implemented allowing for 12-14-year-olds to be subject to court ordered secure remand. It was the culmination of a series of changes, that gave the courts greatly increased powers to lock up ever younger children on remand.

  Today children on remand make up one fifth of the children in custody and half of all receptions in juvenile YOIs. In the last seven years the number of children locked up on remand has increased 41%. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child says that imprisonment of children should be used "only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time", but a third of the children locked up on remand have been charged with a non-violent crime, and three quarters are either acquitted or given a community sentence when they come to trial.

  Something is going very wrong when so many children are locked up on remand, but then released into the community when they come to trial. Since September 2007 the Prison Reform Trust has been campaigning to reduce the number of children and young people imprisoned in England and Wales. In June 2008 PRT published a twelve point plan for reducing the child custody population of England and Wales. Point one of that plan was to reduce the number of children remanded in custody. Since then we have analysed why so many children are being locked up on remand and how the tide could be reversed. It's not an easy process because so many agencies are involved—police, defence solicitors, magistrates, social workers, housing officers, YOT workers and the children themselves. But reducing child custodial remands would save many children from the harmful effects of imprisonment and allow the government to redistribute funds towards meeting the welfare and housing needs of these vulnerable children.

February 2009





 
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