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My first visit to a YOI was a few years ago around Christmas time. I had been invited for the annual Carol Service. I arrived early and awaited the youngsters, to be honest I wasn’t sure what to expect. 10 minutes later they started to file into the Chapel, followed by almost as many members of staff.
Dressed in plain ill-fitting sweatshirts and mis-matched jogging trousers, goodness knows how many times these clothes had been passed on, there was no pride in their appearance as they were dressed in basically clothes you would sling on. My heart went out to these children who were deemed too dangerous to be in society and therefore locked up. What a pitiful sight!
Some joined in with the singing of carols but most stood up and looked bored and dejected; a few smiles came afterwards with the juice and chocolate biscuits. Others were fascinated with the musical instruments which were left out so they could have a try; this gave me chance to talk to them. I remember one lad told me he was 13 years old and hadn’t had a Christmas outside some sort of institution for 5 years. I didn’t ask why they were there; I didn’t want or need to know.
I wanted to hear laughter and chatter but most of these children were fairly quiet and expressionless!
There has been a lot in the media about children locked up, new contracts signed by companies that have dubious methods and terrible treatment.
I applause the Howard League for their tireless campaign to close down prisons for children…
Yes kids need boundaries, yes they need to be taught what is/isn’t appropriate behaviour but is a prison really the place to learn these principles?
I don’t think so.
I’m well aware how some children can be a problem to society but surely we don’t help as we put in so many unnecessary rules and regulations. How about the signs such as “no ball games” “no-skateboarding” and “keep off the grass” around where we live?
Kids need stimulus; they are inquisitive and like to push boundaries. Often the kids in prison have had a difficult past; often they have been victims themselves and have had to survive.
For those that think prison is right for kids then try spending time in one!
After being inundated with tweets concerning Feltham YOI, it’s time to take a step back and consider what really is happening and what could be done about it.
…Our duty is to look after them with humanity and help them lead law-abiding and useful lives in custody and after release http://hmprisonservice.gov.uk/abouttheservice/statementofpurpose/ Believe it or not this is part of the statement of purpose for the prison service! This clearly is not the case.
There are limitations to current penal system with problems of overcrowding and high levels of recidivism. But that is no excuse for locking up children for at least 18 hours per day. How can this treatment help in the rehabilitation of young offenders? And what about them leading “law-abiding and useful lives in custody”?
According to the Independent : http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/inside-feltham-why-londons-young-offender-institution-is-one-of-the-scariest-prisons-in-britain-8788635.html Last month, though, the present chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick, wrote what the Howard League for Penal Reform called the worst dispatch from any such institution in more than a decade. “There is no concealing the fact that this report is one of the most concerning we have published recently,” Hardwick wrote. He painted a picture of aimlessness, and hopelessness, and endemic gang violence. If you were a parent with a child locked up there, he told this newspaper, “you would be right to be terrified”.
Later Nick Hardwick stated…“I don’t think this is just a Feltham problem, it’s a wider problem. We need to get our heads around what we are going to do with these very damaged boys, because simply punishing them, well, it doesn’t work. It absolutely doesn’t work.”
According to the Halliday Report (Home Office, 2001)
- Sentences are more severe
- Judges and magistrates award more custody
- Average length of custodial sentences are 50% longer then 10-15 years ago
- Magistrates sentencing significantly higher proportion to custody
So what now?
The Howard League is driving a campaign for justice for children. They want to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility and ensure that society engages the child behind the crime. They also believe that too many children are in prison. Through their projects such as U R Boss they aim to give children a voice and work to improve the treatment and conditions for children in custody. http://www.howardleague.org/key-issues/
Send in the dogs?
YOI Warren Hill in Suffolk houses young offenders with a variety of problems and backgrounds. It is here that an old dog known as Eddie visits each week to help those inmates that need a bit of therapy. Eddie is part of the “Pets as Therapy Dogs” and gives the lads the unconditional love of an animal that is one of the things that are most missed aspects of their lives when they enter prison.
Home Office (2001) Making Punishments Work. London: Home Office [Online] Available at: http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/documents/halliday-report-sppu/
Every month, I receive the immigration statistics from the Home Office and am repeatedly drawn to the statistics on children detained under Immigration Act powers in immigration removal centres (IRC) such as Tinsley House a facility located on the perimeter road facing the main runway of Gatwick Airport.
These children are not in accommodation geared up for families. Some are detained in locations that originally were built to the same specification as Category B prison; cells as bedrooms and concrete yards as gardens are not environments for children.
I am reminded of the illustrations drawn by children who had experienced life in an immigration removal centre (Burnett, 2010).
The Coalition government had pledged to bring an end to the detention of children for immigration purposes back in May 2010 but clearly this has not been treated with any degree of priority.
How much longer will this continue?
Burnett, J. (2010) ‘Repatriation medicine’ Criminal Justice Matters. 82. December. pp. 26-28.
Home Office (2012) Immigration Statistics July – September. [Online]. Available at < http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/science-research-statistics/research-statistics/immigration-asylum-research/immigration-q3-2012/> [accessed 29 November 2012].