Letter: Children in prison

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The Independent Culture
Sir: We wholeheartedly endorse the views expressed by Fran Russell and Professor Robert Pritchard (letter, 10 August) about the detention of children in prison.

We would like to draw attention, in particular, to the continued remanding to prison of children who remain unconvicted of any crime, the majority of whom do not subsequently receive a custodial sentence. They are held in conditions which are significantly worse than any sentenced prisoner; locked up for 23 hours per day, denied proper access to education and health care, without recourse to the basic protection afforded under the Children Act 1989.

In 1991 the Conservative government pledged to remove remanded 15- and 16-year-old children from the prison system but failed to honour this commitment, and the numbers of children held on remand have doubled, with over 2,000 boys being remanded to custody each year. The Crime and Disorder Act signals the end of that commitment, with courts being allowed to send a boy of 15 or 16 to secure accommodation only where they are deemed to be "vulnerable" within a restrictive definition supplied by the Act and where a vacancy exists within a secure unit. Having read Professor Pritchard's eloquent description of custody the question is, surely, which child is not vulnerable in these circumstances?

The Children's Society Remand Rescue Initiative attempts to find alternatives for children to a custodial remand. Unfortunately, the lack of spaces in secure accommodation and the limited availability of bail support and remand fostering schemes hamper our success. In addition, the Government's failure to challenge the prevailing attitude that "prison works" does little to help the situation. We believe that it is time for the Government to admit that prison is an expensive, ineffective and dangerous environment for children and renew its commitment to removing this group of children from prison custody.

SHARON MOORE

National Co-ordinator

JUSTINE ASHTON

Senior Practitioner

The Children's Society Remand Rescue Initiative

Stafford

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