14:17, November 22 68 0 theguardian.com

2017-11-22 14:17:03
Our shameful policy of locking up young people

Shauneen Lambe is right that our child prisons are a disgrace and that they are harming children (Youth prisons don’t deter criminals. They enable them, 21 November). The answer is to close them down, not to look to other countries that have similar failing institutions. She points to Diagrama, an organisation that runs child jails in Spain, and has been trying to enter the lucrative UK child incarceration market. I have visited some of its jails in Spain and saw Victorian education delivered in bleak and remote establishments. There was nothing we should copy.

It was misjudged of the commissioner of the Metropolitan police to abuse an invitation to speak at a charity’s AGM and call for more children – in effect more black boys – to be incarcerated and for longer. We have gone down that path for two centuries and it has been a disaster. It was all the more bizarre as police forces round the country are successfully reducing child contact with the criminal justice system and there is a good-news story to tell. All experience and research shows that arrest, prosecution and incarceration of children leads to worse outcomes for the child, for victims and for the taxpayer.

Frances Crook

Chief executive, the Howard League for Penal Reform 

Shauneen Lambe correctly highlights the inherent harms and violence of child imprisonment. Yet the truly horrendous experiences of children in prison have failed to create the kind of scandal that might be expected in a modern, progressive and civilised society. Despite a fall in numbers, England and Wales still has the highest incarceration rate for children in western Europe. It also stands virtually alone in the use of child life sentences. Of the 28 EU countries, life imprisonment for children has been abolished in 22. Two children have been sentenced to life imprisonment in France in the last 25 years and one in Ireland. Outside England and Wales, in the EU today only two children are serving life imprisonment. In contrast, 197 life sentences were handed down to children in England and Wales between 2006 and 2016.

Further, in most of the countries within the EU, the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) is 14. The MACR for children in England and Wales is 10, yet bizarrely, under the Pet Animals Act 1951, children under 12 are not deemed legally entitled to buy a pet. According to data from Inquest, 78 people under 21 took their own lives in child prisons between 2007 and 2017. Young people also have less life experience on which to rely to help to deal with problems associated with prison life, or to manage a suicidal impulse when things are looking bleak and hopeless. No civilised society should lock up its children.

Dr David Scott

Ramsbottom, Greater Manchester

In the UK and Republic of Ireland, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14.

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