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Report highlights failings for children in prison

A fall in the number of young people in prison has not resulted in improved conditions for the majority of incarcerated young people, The Howard League for Penal Reform has warned.

Despite a 25% reduction in the total number of children in prison, the fall has not led to fewer young people being held in young offender institutions, described by the penal reform charity as “the most basic form of custody for children”.

The young people who the Howard League spoke to for their research also slammed the education in prisons as “really poor”. Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “We have listened to young people in custody and produced a report that reflects their views and feelings about prison. The result is a damning indictment of a broken system that promotes violence and fails to provide education and services.“

Despite welcome falls in the number of children in custody, this hasn’t been used as an opportunity to improve conditions for those who remain in prison. Now that the youth justice system faces cuts of up to 25%, to what new lows can we go in failing children who are in trouble with the law?” she added.

The report ‘Life inside 2010: A unique insight into the day to day experiences of 15-17 year old males in prison’ is the first policy report to be published as part of the U R Boss project, supported by the Big Lottery Fund. The report was developed in conjunction with young people currently in custody and released into the community.

The general feeling amongst the young people was that prison was failing them, with one young person describing their experience: “Prison doesn’t do anything for you. They just hold you, feed you and give you somewhere to sleep”.The charity said that three quarters of children reoffend on release from prison showing that poor treatment exacerbates crime. The young people raised numerous prison failings including:

* automatic strip-searching on arrival at prison, even though it is the most vulnerable time
* missed targets on the time young people spent out of their cells
* endemic violence and bullying
* a disproportionate use of physical restraint and segregation

Nushra Mansuri, BASW’s joint England manager, said: “The drop in the number of young people in prison is the good news but the bad news is these young people are vulnerable and prison is not the right place for them.” “There is an absence of a culture of welfare in these institutions and it is morally and ethically wrong,” she said. “The philosophy is not one of care and is at odds with what they need to turn their lives around.

“There is a compelling case about the lack of care and we have a duty of care – it is a complete failure on all grounds – their basic human rights are being violated and it is of great concern,” Ms Mansuri added.“We can’t go on like this. We are setting young people up for failure in the future which is not good for them or for society. The new government needs to take a completely fresh look at the system as currently it is not about rehabilitation, it is about helping these young people press the self-destruct button.”

The report can be ordered here