Skip to main content

Fatally flawed: Has the state learned lessons from the deaths of children and young people in prison?

The inquests and investigations into the deaths of children and young people in prison between 2003 and 2010 reveal that they were often very vulnerable and that none received the level of support and protection they needed. In many of the cases, the fact that they were in prison in the first place can be seen as symptomatic of failures by agencies within and outside the criminal justice system to address their multiple, often complex, needs. The detailed stories of six of the children and young people who died in prison which feature in this report vividly illustrate the extent of their vulnerabilities and the shortcomings of their treatment both within the justice system and by agencies outside. The information and evidence collated for this report revealed common themes in the experiences and treatment of children and young people who died in prison between 2003 and 2010. These overlapping findings included that they:

  • were some of the most disadvantaged in society and had experienced problems with mental health, self-harm, alcohol and/or drugs;
  • had significant interaction with community agencies before entering prison yet in many cases there were failures in communication and information exchange between prisons and those agencies;
  • despite their vulnerability, they had not been diverted out of the criminal justice system at an early stage and had ended up remanded or sentenced to prison;
  • were placed in prisons with unsafe environments and cells;
  • experienced poor medical care and limited access to therapeutic services in prison;
  • had been exposed to bullying and treatment such as segregation and restraint;
  • were failed by the systems set up to safeguard them from harm.