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Children and young people in custody in England

During the last few years, the use of penal custody for children and young people in England and Wales has occupied a prominent place among the industrialized democratic countries. However, the experiences of these children and young people, as Goldson (2006) argues, can be both positive and negative. On one hand, the custody can be good for their education and rehabilitation if it complies with international human tights standards; on the other hand, however, children have, in practice, undergone the negative experiences both before and in custody. In this essay, the current situation of children and young people in custody in England and Wales will be shown at first. Then, some international human rights standards and how these are beneficial for these people will be looked at. In addition, their vulnerable background and the negative experiences in prison will be focused on. Furthermore, the death of Adam Richwood will be examined to show how the youth justice systems work ineffectively. Finally, the ways that those agencies seek for impunity will be concerned.

As is known to everyone, the United States is a “mass imprisonment” country around the world (Garland, 2001). Considering the population of children in custody, between 1993 and 1999, the number of child prisoners bumped up by 48% (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2003). While, this sharply upward tend also emerges in England and Wales, which has the lowest age of criminal responsibility, at 10, in Europe, even democratic societies (Tomashevski, 1986). During the period 1992 to 2001, the population of children increased by 142% (Goldson, 2002). In March 2004, 3,251 children and young people were sentenced into custody in England and Wales, which contained 2,772 in Prison Service Young Offender Institution (YOI); 290 in Local Authority Secure Children’s Home (LACH) and 189 in Privately Managed Secure Training Center (STC) (Youth Justice Board, 2005, p78). A research, conducted in 2005, shows that: “although 56% of the LASH population and 29% of the STC population are 14 years or younger, both types of institution also cater for sizeable numbers of older offenders” (cited in Jewkws, 2007, p213). It is interesting to note that 93% of young prisoners are male offenders, but a higher proportion of prisoners aged 14 or below are comprised by girl, (Jewkes, 2007). Compared to France, the children population in England and Wales in 2002, about 13.351 million, is just 105,000 less than that in France. However, the number of children detained in custody in those areas is four times larger than that in France, 3,133 and 862 respectively (Nacro, 2003, p3). Although the number of young people in custody has decreased from 2,126 to 1,724 during 2009 to 2010(YJB, 2011), Goldson (2006, cited in Scation and McClloch, 2009, p88) suggests that England and Wales: “comprises the jurisdiction where greater use of penal custody for children is made than most other industrialized democratic countries”.

Faced the vast majorities of children and young people in custody, Barry Goldson (2006, p148) asserts that: “penal custody for them can never be a neutral experience”. The penal custody, to be honest, can be a positive experience for children as long as it complies with the international human rights standards, which include a series of international instruments from the United Nations, and others like council of Europe. Internationally, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child (UNCRC) establishes a wide range of social, economic, cultural, civil and potential rights for children (Convery et al, 2008). It emerged in 1989 with 193 ratifying states, except the US and Somalia (Kilkelly, 2008). The rights covered by UNCRC, which applies to people under 18 years old, are highly related to children who are detained in custody, such as the non-discrimination (Article 2); the best interest of the child (Article 3) and the detention and punishment (Article 37). Meanwhile, the UN has adopted three other human rights standards: the Beijing Rules, which are standard rules for Administration of Juvenile Justice; the Havana Rules, which are rules for protecting children in detention and the Riyadlh Guidelines, which aim to prevent Juvenile delinquency (Convery et al, 2008). Additionally, in Europe, the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), such as the right to life (Article 2); the right to liberty and security of person (Article 5); and a fair trial (Article 6), are other important instruments on children’s rights (Convery et al, 2008).

In details, youth justice system should protect children’s rights in accordance with international human rights standards. The first right is rehabilitation and reintegration into the community. According to Article 37(c) and 40 of UNCRC, detention is regard as a last resort, and children’s rehabilitation within community is very important, which benefit them from returning ultimately. The second right is protection from harm. Both Article 19 of UNCRC and Article 3 of ECHR state that youth justice system should prevent children from torture, physical and sexual abuse and provide a safety place, avoiding ill-treatment by staff and other young people, to promote the “physical and mental well-being of children ” (Kilkelly et al, 2002, p78). Thirdly, the health and health care are the major rights to children. Because of the poor health and associated problems when children come into custody and in order to ensure their reintegration into society successfully, Article 27 of UNCRC guarantees children to get adequate medical care and high health care service. The forth right is private and family life. Article 37(c) of UNCRC states that every child: “who is deprived of liberty must enjoy the right to maintain regular contact with his/her family through correspondence and visits” (cited in Kilkelly et al, 2002, p122). The visits should be held regularly in the private and unrestricted circumstances and youth justice system should allow children to leave custody for home visit so as to let them keep strongly in touch with their families. Last but not the least, Article 28 of UNCRC states that children have right to education. Providing education for children in custody by not only designed programmes, but also acquiring regular news from newspapers, magazines, radio and television, are essential for preparing to return to society. Under these circumstances, children will have beneficial experience in the event that youth justice system complies with these international human rights standards.

However, as Goldson’s research shows, custody is usually not like what previously mentioned, and experience in there is always a nightmare for children. Prior to being sentenced in custody, as a matter of fact, these children have experiences a negative background. Poverty is entrenched and spatially uneven un the UK (Scration and McCulloch, 2009). Goldson (2006, p146) states that child prisoners “are routinely drawn from some of the most structurally disadvantaged and impoverished families, neighbourhoods and communities in England and Wales”. Therefore, the existence of poor children with penal institutions generates the violation (Scration and McCulloch, 2009). What is more, lack of education is another negative experience before children are sentenced in custody. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prison (2001) found that:

84% of child prisoners had been excluded from school; 86 % had regularly not attend school; 52% had left school aged 14 years or younger; 29% had left school aged 13 years and younger and 73% described their educational achievement as ‘nil’. (Cited in Goldson and Muncie, 2006, p147)

Moreover, as the Youth Justice Board (YJB) points out, child prisoners are both “inherently and structurally vulnerable” (Scration and McCulloch, 2009, p92). The lives of imprisoned children, who mostly come from disadvantaged families and communities, are full of neglect and abuse. A research, conducted by Standing Committee for Youth Justice (SCYJ) (2010) indicates that:

The figures for children in custody who were abused as a child are 50% higher than other on Youth Offending Team caseload and 30% of these children had experienced or witnessed domestic violence compared 8% of other on the caseloads. Other studies undertaken over the last ten years confirm these high levels of childhood abuse, neglect or traumatic loss among the custodial population. (p4)

Considering the children detained in custody, the conditions and treatments in England and Wales testify a statement that: “children in custodial institutions are particularly prone to violence and harm” (Scraton and McCulloch, 2009, p93). First of all, bullying is still a serious problem in most custodial institutions. Challen and Walton (2004) find out that 22% of young male prisoners and 27% of female prisoners suffer insulting remarks from prison staffs, while, 9% of males and 2% of females are physically assaulted by staffs. Except the staff-on-child bullying, child-on-child violence is also a particular problem. 41% of male prisoners and 27% of females say that other young people use insulting remarks on them. In the meantime, 24% of males and 12% of females are physically assaulted by other young people. However, Goldson and Muncie (2006, p148) point out that child prisoners also experience other forms of bullying, including: “sexual assault, verbal abuse, extortion and theft, and lending and trading cultures”. Secondly, restraint, applied as a officially sanctioned practice, is always treated as child abuse. Challen and Walton (2004) observe that during the year 2001 to 2003, 20% of young male prisoners received physical restraint and 37% of these prisoners have been restrained more than three times, while, 6% of young female prisoners are physically restrained. Surprisingly, statistics conducted by Youth Justice Board between 2004 and 2005 indicate that: “5,133 ‘restraint’ interventions were recorded in child prison in England and Wales” (Scraton and McCulloch, 2009, p94). The ‘restraint’ results in seriously sustained injuries on child prisoners. Hilton Dawson MP (cited in Scraton and McCulloch, 2009, p94) state that: “there had been 200 injuries to child prisoners following ‘restraint’ in an eleven-month period”. Thirdly, another officially sanctioned practice is routine strip search. It is applied in two forms: upper-body cavity searches, which focus on ears, nose and mouth; and lower-body cavity searches, which require children to ‘bend over or squat’ (Scraton and McCulloch, 2009). ‘Garlile Inquiry’ (2006) argues that strip search will have badly psychological problem on children, because when they come into prison, the very first requirement is to let them strip and reveal their body to an unknown adult. However, a research conducted by one Youth Offender Institution alone between 2004 and 2005, shows that: “3,379 strip searches were conducted on children immediately following their arrival at the prison” (cited in Scraton and McCulloch, 2009, p95). Fourthly, as a form of restraint, segregation is another way to confine children in solitary places. Challen and Walton (2004) figure out that 21% of young male prisoners, compared with 9% of young female prisoners, reply that they have spent a night in segregation unit. While. 38% of male prisoners say they are badly treated by the staffs, and 74% of them regard it as adjudication. Consequently, it results in some problems, such as inadequate exercise. Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of prison (cited in Scraton and McCulloch, 2009, p95) find that: “only around half the girls and a quarter of the boys said they were able to exercise everyday and in one establishment, none said they were able to do so”. Last but not the least, self-harm and suicide are the dominant issues in prison. As previously mentioned, a vast majority of young people are very vulnerable. Usually, they come into prison with series of mental health problems. However, the bad conditions and inadequate healthcare lead to more severe psychological damages. A study (cited in Goldson and Muncie, 2006, p148) show that, between 1998 and 2002, “there were 1,659 reported incidents of self-injury or attempted suicide by child prisoners in England and Wales”. What is worse, in England and Wale, 29 children died in prison between 1990 and 2005, and 27 of them suicide themselves (Goldson and Coles, 2005).

Additionally, compared to aforementioned international human rights standards, the prisons in Northern Ireland, according to a study conducted by Convery and Moore (2006) with Juvenile Justice Centre (JJC), have many weaknesses. First of all, they find that the principle of custody as ‘last resort’ is not undertook. The research (Convery et al, 2008, p225) shows that “three-quarters of children are held on demand, some for relatively minor offences. Subsequently, most do not receive custodial sentences”. Secondly, children in custody are still separated from their families. Although Article 37(c) of UNCRC emphasizes the significance of strong links between children and their families, Convery and Moore (2008, p225) point out that: “visiting children in the JJC is often difficult due to cost, distance and logistics”. Thirdly, there is still an inadequate health care for children in custody. One of the most common problems is poor mental health. An inspection (cited in Convery et al. 2008, p259) conducted among 30 children in the JJC shows that: “20 has a diagnosed mental health disorder, 17 has a history of self-harm and 8 has at least one suicide attempt recorded”. Fourthly, ‘rehabilitation’ is the most important aim mentioned by the UNCRC, but the research finds that because of the inadequate education and lack of mental healthcare provision, these released children have difficulties in returning to the communities. Therefore, with high possibilities of reoffending, “many children return to custody soon after release” (Convery et al, 2008, p258). In short, as Una Convery et al (2008) claim, the children’s rights to health care, to connection with families, and to education and training are still ignored in custody.

Despite the international human rights standards, there are a great number of policies implemented to deal with the conditions and treatments of children and young people in custody. One of the dominant policies, which started in 1987, is called ‘safer custody’ reform. Recently, its imperatives within the juvenile secure estate are applied by Youth Justice Board (YJB, 2004), which was established in 1997 to manage the policy and practice through the whole youth justice system (Blyth et al, 2009). There are some key highlights of the reform: a Ministerial Roundtable on suicide in prisons; the establishment of a prison service safer custody group to operationalise a safer custody strategy and the appointment of suicide prevention coordinators in prisons (Blyth et al, 2009). However, in 2004, the death of a 14-year-old child, Adam Richwood, confirms that these policies are still useless in practice. Adam Richwood, who suicide himself, is the youngest child died in custody in the last 25 years (INQUEST, 2007). During the case inquest, there are some key issues related to his death. Firstly, although all the officers knew the vulnerable state of mind of Adam, he was still restrained by using ‘nose distraction’ for several hours until he died. It definitely violates the STC Rules, which state that: “restraint can only be used as a last resort and not for non compliance” (INQUEST, 2007, p2). Secondly, there was a LACH near Adam’s home, which was closed in September 2004. However, he was detained in custody 150 miles far from his home. Thirdly, it was investigate that the training of the officers at Hassockfield was particularly poor. A majority of them were trained only 9 weeks with little knowledge of dealing with suicide and self-harm issue, and some of them even forgot what they have learned (INQUEST, 2007). Blyth et al (2009, p59) comment on the effectiveness of the policies: “There is no hard evidence to suggest that the innumerable policies, practices and procedures have ever succeeded or can ever succeed”.

When the aforementioned bad conditions, treatments and death in penal custody are reported to public, those penal institutions are trying to present impunity by blurring the “truth”. Goldson (cited in Scraton and McCullon, 2009) regards “othering”, “veiling”, “euphemism” and “circumscription” as four main characters when they violate the “fact”. Firstly, “othering” is based on both demonization and pathology of children. The institutions draw more emphases on children’s “offender” status by transforming the notion from “children with problems” to “children as problems”. Meanwhile, they prefer “inmates”, “criminals” and “lawbreakers” rather than “child”, “children” and “childhood” to describe the children. Considering the personal pathology, the institutions argue that because of the “emotional pathology” and “metal distress”, children should be “responsible for their own suffering” (Scraton and McCullon, 2009, p97). These portrayals effectively let institutions avoid punishment. Secondly, as previously mentioned, the Youth Justice Board is in charge of the “safer custody” reform aiming to put on a veil that the penal custody is still humanised. As matter of fact, however, none of the politics and practices has ever succeeded (Miller, 1991). Thirdly, euphemism is widely used in penal system. A majority of “special vocabularies” (Scraton and McCullon, 2009) are used in England and Wales, such as “juvenile secure estate” to describe child prison system and “safe and effective” to introduce penal regimes and practices (Scraton and McCullon, 2009). As cited in Scraton and McCullon’s book (2009, p98), the aim of euphemism is to “construct positive presentations”. Fourthly, circumscription is increasingly obvious with the death of children. The police will begin to investigate after the death, while, the Corner’s Court will involve in and be responsible for the inquest, which is, in reality, however, severely circumscribed. Cohen (2001, Scraton and McCullon, 2009, P99) argues that: “investigations and inquests represent the ‘political absence of an inquiring mind’; they provide the institutional apparatus through which impunity is guaranteed and perpetuated”.

In conclusion, the Youth Justice Agencies, in practice, comply with the international human rights standards ineffectively, which results in children and young people, who have poor and vulnerable background, undergo some negative experiences in custody, such as bulling, restraint and strip search. Although the treatment could be more effectively targeted due to the fall of population in custody, the death of Adam Rickwood argues the useless of the policies applied to those children and young people fiercely. Besides, the state agencies, who want to blur the “truth”, seeking for impunity, is a significant problem in Youth Justice Systems, which will impede the progress of improving conditions and treatments to these children and young people in custody.

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