Minister rejects campaigners’ calls to end ‘unsafe’ imprisonment of children

A minister has rejected campaigners’ calls to end the practice of detaining children in prison settings.

During a debate on child imprisonment, justice minister Edward Argar told MPs the Government believes “there will always be some children for whom custody may the appropriate and necessary sentence”.

The Howard League for Penal Reform has called for the “fundamentally unsafe” practice of detaining young people to be abolished.

Mr Argar insisted the Government is “equally absolutely clear” that holding children in custody should “always be as a last resort and for a period of time in line with the seriousness of the offence”.

He added: “I do think we need to think differently about how we deal with children who offend to ensure at the heart of it that we break the cycle of re-offending before they become adults and to understand often the experiences and the trauma that has been experienced in the past in those young people’s lives.”

The Labour MP who called for the debate said she was “not happy” that the minister rejected campaigners’ calls and said she will make further pleas to him “imminently”.

Earlier, Emma Lewell-Buck said the Government must end what she called the “state-sanctioned child abuse” against young prisoners.

She added: “For decades what has been happening to the forgotten children imprisoned across England and Wales is state-supported and state-sanctioned child abuse.

“Worse still, those in this place who have had the power to stop it haven’t.”

She also demanded the Government outlines a timetable for phasing out youth offender institutions.

Leader of the Liberal Democrats Sir Vince Cable urged ministers to make use of “institutional memory” and not repeat the mistakes of the past with any reforms.

Sir Vince said “as far as he can see nothing has been learnt” from the last time reforms were discussed around the turn of the century.

He added: “Many of those problems are still with us in exactly the same form or are indeed now considerably worse.”

The debate comes as the latest inspection report into HMYOI Werrington, published on Tuesday, was found by inspectors to have become less safe since it was last visited a year ago.

In the report, chief inspector of prisons Peter Clarke said at the young offender institution near Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire, which holds about 120 boys aged 15 to 18, the number of assaults on children “remained high” and violence against staff had doubled since the previous inspection.

The report added: “Violence against children and staff remained high and some of it was very serious. Use of force had risen and there were weaknesses in governance.

“Incidents of violence between children had reduced but some were very serious.”

The use of force on children had also increased since the previous inspection, although incidents of force remained lower than other similar establishments, the report said, adding: “Pain infliction techniques continued to be used on children, which was inappropriate.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Matthew Fearn / PA Wire.