Locking up a child is one of the most profound actions a state can take; once a child has been deprived of their liberty, the state has a duty under domestic law and international conventions to ensure that they receive the most appropriate care and support. Currently, in England and Wales over 90% of children in custody are held in establishments that the Government’s own inspectors find to be unsafe. It cannot be right that children, many of whom will already have experienced neglect and abuse, are kept in places where the levels of violence and self harm are high and rising, where their education is frequently disrupted and where they can be deliberately hurt as a response to challenging behaviour.
The NAYJ has long advocated that fewer children should be locked up, and that decisions to lock up a child should only be taken where there is a serious risk of harm. The small number of children who need to be detained should be accommodated in small, local establishments and cared for by suitably qualified and experienced staff. We are pleased to be part of the End Child Imprisonment coalition which on Thursday will publish a document which will show clearly why the current system is not fit for purpose. The document will outline why deprivation of liberty should be the last resort for children, why it is so harmful to their healthy development and does not serve to protect society. It will go on to describe the principles that should underpin decisions to lock up children, and those that should be in place in any establishment where children are placed.
The call to radically change the current provision is long overdue and one that the NAYJ wholeheartedly supports.