Charity challenges lack of protection for child inmates

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The Independent Online

A prison reform charity sought permission yesterday to challenge the Government's controversial policy of excluding jailed juveniles from the provisions of child protection legislation.

A prison reform charity sought permission yesterday to challenge the Government's controversial policy of excluding jailed juveniles from the provisions of child protection legislation.

The Howard League for Penal Reform lodged papers in the High Court over the Government's decision to exclude youngsters in prison from the 1989 Children Act. The charity said its research showed children in prisons were not being protected from bullying, assault, suicide and self-harm.

Frances Crook, the society's director, said children in jail have been "subjected to significant harm" and needed protection. "Children behind bars are highly vulnerable, because they cannot run away from fear or unhappiness and have no choice in whom to turn to for help," she said. "The law, which took away their freedom, should also protect them when they are in need."

There are currently 2,398 juveniles in prison. Of these, 268 are aged 15, 709 are aged 16 and 1,421 are 17, the charity said.

Its research shows four 16-year-olds have committed suicide in prison since January 2000, and in the last 10 years 18 child inmates have taken their own lives. Ms Crook said: "Unless the Children Act gives these young people protection we think they are going to carry on dying."

Two of the young people who have committed suicide since January 2000 were in care, she added. "If the Children Act had at that time covered prisons it is possible social services would have gone in and taken them out of prison because they were more vulnerable in there," Ms Crook said.

Research also shows there were 554 incidents of self- harm by juveniles in prisons recorded from April 2000 to last November. Between April 2000 and this January staff in prisons used force on juveniles 3,620 times and 296 children were injured, the charity's figures show. Isolation has been used as punishment 4,437 times since April 2000.

"If you locked a 15-year-old in the bathroom for three weeks, and only allowed them out for one hour a day, and didn't let them speak to anyone, or let them have a radio or TV, you would probably be up in court for child abuse," Ms Crook said. ?Yet that is the sort of treatment afforded them in prisons on a terrifying scale.?

The case is expected to be heard at a later date.