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Hannah Ward, Communications and Information Manager at Inquest, blogs about why the Harris Review into self-inflicted deaths in custody of 18-24 year olds is an opportunity for change


In February 2014, in response to ongoing pressure from INQUEST and other pressure groups, the Government announced it would hold an independent review into the deaths in prison of young people aged 18-24. This was a significant milestone for INQUEST, who first called for an inquiry into the deaths of children in November 2003, following the prison death of 16 year old Joseph Scholes.


Inquest’s and Prison Reform Trust’s report Fatally Flawed: Has the state learned lessons from the deaths of children and young people in prison?’   found that a large number of young people who had died in custody had been diagnosed with ADHD, had special educational needs, personality, conduct and attachment disorders, as well as other vulnerabilities – some of which have been linked to self-harm and suicide. Staff training was frequently inadequate and they were ill-equipped to deal with these vulnerabilities.


The most crucial recommendation in the report was that the Government should hold an independent review into the deaths of children and young people aged 24 and under in prison, examining not just criminal justice issues but social and public health issues around the journey into custody. The current mechanisms in place to examine these deaths – the investigation and inquest systems – do not have the remit to tackle these crucial, broader, contextual questions.


The Government at first resisted this call, arguing that current systems were adequate.  However, in March 2013 the parliamentary Justice Committee endorsed INQUEST’s concerns. The combination of parliamentary lobbying and legal challenge resulted in the government reconsidering its decision and in February 2014 the review was announced, with a deadline of midnight 18 July for submissions.


INQUEST was disappointed that children were excluded from the review and we will be ensuring their experiences are reflected in the analysis as much as possible.  We are putting in a detailed submission based on our in depth casework and work with bereaved families as well as our policy and research work funded by the Barrow Cadbury Trust. We are asking everyone who works with young people in conflict with the law to do so too.  All contributions from organisations working with young people in and out of custody, can have an impact.


The shocking death toll of children and young people (140 self-inflicted deaths in the last ten years) means we need some fundamental rethinking to prevent the deaths of children and young people in prison but also to divert them out of the prison system altogether.


Find out more and submit your evidence before midnight 18 July.