Children are being held in "battery farm" conditions in young offender institutions because of government cuts, penal reformers have claimed.
They pointed to an increase in the use of restraint techniques to control young people as evidence that a hardline approach to youth justice was not working. Two children also died in prison service custody last month.
The attack by the Howard League followed a reduction by the Youth Justice Board (YJB) in the number of places in secure children's homes, viewed by reformers as the best way to rehabilitate young offenders.
The Howard League claimed that the move was driven by the pressure for cuts – a space in a children's home costs £211,000 a year compared with £55,000 a year for a young offender institution run by the prison service. Its chief executive, Frances Crook, said: "The battery farm model of young offender institutions, with hundreds of troubled children under one roof, is wholly inappropriate."
The YJB said the cuts in children's home spending was driven by the fall in numbers of young offenders in custody over the past five years.