Children ‘In Prison’ After Riot Shuts Unit

The two boys and a girl were forced into young offenders’ institutions, which normally house adults aged 16 to 21, following the closure of the country’s biggest secure unit for children after a weekend riot.

The move comes despite a commitment from the Scottish Government to end the widely criticised jailing of juveniles.

The three youngsters were students at St Mary’s, Kenmure, a 31-place secure facility in Bishopbriggs, near Glasgow, closed after 10 children escaped amid disturbances early on Sunday morning. All but one of the abscondees – a 14-year-old fireraiser understood to have been at the heart of trouble at St Mary’s – have been recaptured.

The £9m facility is the biggest of its kind, representing a quarter of the Scottish secure unit estate.

Officials at the Scottish Prison Service, which yesterday was struggling to cope with a record 8083 prisoners in custody or tagged in their homes, do not feel jail is the right place for youngsters.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has pledged to end the imprisonment of under-16s, which are made under “unruly certificates” orders that can name their place of detention as an adult jail.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “The incident at St Mary’s is far from usual and has had an effect on the current capacity of the secure estate in Scotland.

“The care, welfare and security of these young people is the priority and the Scottish Government is working with secure accommodation providers to help make sure they can meet demand. This doesn’t change our plans to abolish unruly certificates to ensure that children are not remanded by the courts to adult prisons. Already the established policy of ministers is to place children in secure care once they have been convicted of offences and ordered by the courts to be detained.”

The jailing of juveniles has been criticised by Children’s Commissioner Kathleen Marshall and Her Majesty’s Inspector of Prisons Andrew McLellan. They are backed by John Watson, Scottish Programme Director for Amnesty International. He said: “Adult jails are no place for vulnerable children.”

A total of 26 under-16s spent time in jail in 2006-2007. A spokesman for the Scottish Prison Service yesterday stressed it was very unusual for the entire prison system to have more than one or two under-16s in at the same time. “Normally they are held for a very short period of time while more appropriate accommodation is identified,” he said.

Two boys aged 14 and 15 were yesterday in Polmont Young Offenders’ Institution. They were joined by a 16-year-old who had also been at St Mary’s at the time of the disturbance. A 15-year-old girl was sent to the young offenders’ institution at Cornton Vale.

The Herald understands that St Mary’s – shut indefinitely – will reopen in days. But its beds have already been missed. Most secure units contacted by The Herald yesterday were full, with the exception of the Rossie centre near Montrose, which had six places left. At least one child has been sent to England for detention.

Ironically, the biggest problem facing the secure estate before this week’s closure at St Mary’s was over-capacity. Some councils, The Herald can reveal, had even been approached to help out cash-strapped units with extra referrals.