05:36, October 10 38 0 theguardian.com

2018-10-10 05:36:05
Segregation of young offenders rising in institutions, says report

Young offenders are increasingly being locked up on their own, a children’s rights watchdog has found, highlighting one case where a child was kept in segregation for 100 days.

The children’s commissioner for England found there were 437 segregation episodes over six months this year, compared with 357 recorded in young offender institutions (YOIs) over a seven-month period in 2014.

The number of segregation episodes per month increased by 43% from 51 in 2014 to 73.

The commissioner’s report also found the average length of segregation periods doubled from eight to 16 days between 2014 and 2018, with 70% of segregations lasting more than a week.

Locking children up in solitary confinement is widely agreed to be bad for their mental health, the commissioner said.

In one incident, a child was kept in segregation for 100 days due to self-isolation at YOI Feltham in west London, while all YOIs reported at least one instance of segregation of 75 days or more.

The commissioner, Anne Longfield, raised concerns that if a child chose to self-isolate for long periods, the reasons for this should be investigated and support be put in place.

“Children tell me that segregation can bring on feelings of stress, apathy, anxiety, anger, depression and hopelessness,” she said.

“I want to see more transparency and accountability around the use of segregation in the youth justice system.

“It is extremely worrying that the practice is increasing at the same time as the number of young people in the youth justice estate has fallen.

“There is widespread agreement that keeping children in solitary confinement is bad for their mental health.”

Longfield is due to present the research to the joint committee on human rights on Wednesday.

The findings include accounts of children spending up to 23-and-a-half hours in a cell each day, which the report said would appear to contravene articles 37 and 40 of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child.

One child from a YOI, interviewed as part of the report, told of feeling “upset and anger” at being put into isolation.

“I’ve gone from being out of my pad all day to being isolated, well locked up really, for three days straight, so there was a lot of emotions going through my head. I didn’t really know what was going on,” they said.

“I was up and down, I was angry smashing up my pad and stuff like that. I ended up tying something round my neck and dropped to the ground.”

The report said gang involvement, prison staffing levels and shortages of NHS mental health beds may be driving the increased use of segregation.

Across all YOIs over a six-month period, there were 306 separate episodes of segregation lasting more than a week, which compared with the overall number of episodes of segregation is “very high”, the report said.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “The safety and welfare of young people in our care is our priority.

“That is why there are strict safeguards on segregation, which is only used as a last resort when someone is likely to cause harm to themselves or others.

“We are recruiting more staff and investing in enhanced support units for the most vulnerable offenders, so young people have the support they need to turn away from crime and contribute to society.”

Topics