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Criminal Justice

INQUEST report says that a fundamental rethink is needed to avoid more deaths of young adults and children in prison

A new report by INQUEST ‘Stolen Lives and Missed Opportunities: The deaths of young adults and children in prison’ commissioned by the T2A Alliance – has found “a litany of systemic neglect, institutional complacency and shortsighted policies” which have contributed to the deaths of 65 young adults and children in custody between January 2011 and 31 December 2014.

 

This shocking report argues for a fundamental rethink about the use of prison for children and young adults that requires political boldness and a more steadfast willingness to implement evidence-based change.   According to the report the vulnerabilities of young prisoners have been well documented, yet they continue to be sent to unsafe environments, with scarce resources and staff untrained to deal with, and respond humanely to, the particular and complex needs of young adults and children.

 

At a practical level, establishments do not seem to have learned lessons from previous deaths in prisons; too many deaths occur because the same mistakes are made time and again.  This in turn raises questions about the adequacy of the investigation, inspection and monitoring systems and the process of accountability for institutions.   The report makes a number of recommendations for change, including:

 

  • Prisons should be used only as a last resort for those who present a significant risk to others.
  • In the event that prison is deemed necessary, investment is needed in local and smaller prison units, designed and designated specifically for the young adult age group, with an emphasis on therapeutic environments, interventions and more staff who are adequately trained and want to work with young prisoners.
  • Most young adults will ‘grow out of crime’ if given opportunities and support to turn their lives around  The temporary nature of this stage of life should be taken into account in criminal justice responses, as should research that has highlighted the criminalising effect of imprisonment on this age group
  • There should be a reallocation of resources away from imprisonment towards crime prevention, focusing on areas which destabilise an individual’s life – e.g. education, healthcare, social care and housing.
  • Probation pre-sentence reports for 18-25 year olds should always include a specific section on a young adult’s maturity.
  • Multi-disciplinary agencies in prisons and the community have a duty to share information about a young person’s vulnerability.
  • A national database that all prisons can access should be set up to counter delays in documents and incomplete information arriving with prisoners.
  • A central oversight body should be set up. This body would be tasked with collating, analysing critically, and constantly auditing across the relevant sectors, and report publicly on the accumulated learning from inquest outcomes and recommendations from PPO investigations, and HMIP/IMB recommendations pertinent to custodial health and safety.

 

Read a copy of the report