NEWS

Deaths Of Young People And Children In Custody Since Joseph Scholes 'Devastating' Claims Report

24/10/2012 07:34

Nine children and more than 190 other young people aged 24 and under have died in prisons or secure training centres since calls for a review ten years ago after the death of 16-year-old Joseph Scholes went unfulfilled.

Systemic failures in prisons, the criminal justice system and community agencies are contributing to the deaths of children and young people in custody, claims a report into the criminal justice system.

The lack of action over the past decade is a "devastating indictment of bad practice", former chief inspector of prisons Lord Ramsbotham said.

joseph scholes

Joseph Scholes hanged himself in his cell at Stoke Heath Young Offenders' Institution when he was only 16

The criminal justice system and community services "have demonstrably let young people down, for all the wrong reasons, for far too long", Lord Ramsbotham said.

"Too often 'tough' talk about crime and punishment does not result in the authoritative action needed to rectify the flaws in our criminal justice system," he wrote in the foreword to the report called Fatally Flawed.

"Until and unless named individuals are made responsible and accountable for ensuring that things happen, nothing will happen.

"I think that it should be a matter of serious concern that the findings in Fatally Flawed echo what has been said, repeatedly, for years, and are a devastating indictment of bad practice."

Children and young people are being failed by the systems set up to safeguard them from harm, the report by the Prison Reform Trust and the Inquest campaign group found.

It comes more than 10 years after Joseph hanged himself in his cell at Stoke Heath Young Offenders' Institution in Shropshire on March 24 2002.

joseph scholes

Joseph's mother said her son died 'in fear and distress' in a 'squalid cell'

Yvonne Bailey, Joseph's mother, who has long called for a public inquiry, said she read today's report "with sorrow".

"It is now over a decade since my son Joseph died in fear and distress hanging from the window bars of his squalid cell in a children's prison," she said.

"The deaths of a further nine young boys are devastating evidence that the changes implemented were yet again wholly insufficient to fulfil the duty on the state to protect the right to life of the children it imprisons.

"I am saddened and perplexed by the continuing and repeated refusal of successive governments to properly investigate through a public inquiry the circumstances that have led to the deaths of child prisoners."

The report, which looked at the experiences of 98 children and young people who died, found they were "some of the most disadvantaged in society" and had experienced problems with mental health, self-harm, alcohol and drugs.

In many cases there were communication failures between community agencies and prisons while, in others, they were placed in prisons with unsafe environments and cells, the report said.

It added that poor medical care and limited access to therapeutic services in prison also caused problems and some children and young people had been exposed to bullying, segregation or restraint.

Deborah Coles, co-director of Inquest, said: "This shocking death toll has been obscured for far too long.

"Working on a daily basis with bereaved families, we see inquest after inquest raising the same issues and, despite promises of change, the deaths continue."

She went on: "It is difficult to comprehend how, despite the persistent death toll, there has been a repeated refusal and resistance to holding a holistic inquiry to examine the wider systemic and policy issues underlying the deaths of children and young people in custody.

"This report must prompt an independent review as a matter of urgency as there is a pressing need to learn from the failures that cost these young people their lives."

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "After 200 deaths in 10 years, it is time to learn that locking up our most vulnerable children and young people in our bleakest institutions is a process that is fatally flawed."

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: "Every death in custody is a tragedy for families and friends and has a profound effect on staff and other prisoners.

"The rate of self-inflicted deaths has fallen by approximately 40% since 2004, but we are committed to further reducing the numbers of deaths in custody."

She went on: "Young people in custody are some of the most vulnerable and troubled individuals in society and their safety is our highest priority.

"Strenuous efforts are made to learn from each death and improve our understanding and procedures for caring for prisoners.

"Findings from relevant reports and inquests are examined and incorporated into policies with guidance and lessons learned shared with custodial staff."

Maggie Atkinson, the Children's Commissioner for England, said: "It is never acceptable for a child to come to harm while they are imprisoned and this situation does need close and careful monitoring and scrutiny, as demonstrated through research such as this today.

"Some lessons have been learned from previous tragedies with action undertaken to prevent another young life tragically ending.

"The findings from this research will be extremely helpful to aid further improvements in this area."

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