Child deaths in custody

Any child’s death is a sad event, but a child dying in the custody of the state is scandalous. The state has ultimate power, and ultimate responsibility, when it takes a person into custody. A child should never die in these circumstances. So it is incredible that sixteen children have died in custody since the founding of the Youth Justice Board. Today the YJB published a report into these deaths. I am taken aback by how shamefully superficial and self-justifying it is.

The report only considers matters raised by other bodies, each of which have very limited remits so the YJB has ignored whole areas of its responsibility.

The YJB is the only authority that could have looked more widely at why these children died, not just at how. It has a great deal of responsibility for the youth offending teams who manage children when they first come into contact with the criminal justice system and who prepare reports for the courts to guide sentencing.

This is critically important as most of the boys were remanded to custody, not sentenced, and almost all the sentenced boys were serving short sentences.

The YJB should have looked at the lead up to custody and what could have been done to prevent the boys entering such a dangerous environment. Prisons and privately run secure training centres are violent places, bullying and restraint is rampant.

Why did the report not ask the youth offending teams to account for why they did not work more closely with children’s services and social services to support the families and turn the children’s lives round? Also published today is an investigation by the BBC and Community Care magazine about the lack of services for children with serious mental health problems, which most of the boys who died in penal custody were known to have suffered from. The question should have been asked why these boys were not diverted to mental health care by youth offending teams.

Why did the report not look at the advice and recommendations given to the youth courts?

No one has ever examined the decisions of the courts who sent these children to places that clearly were dangerous. The YJB is arguably the only body that could have questioned the decision by the courts to incarcerate highly vulnerable children in prisons and STCs that are well known to be violent and dangerous. One of the boys who died was sent to custody because he breached conditions placed on him in the community – how on earth can a court justify such a decision and who is going to question the magistrates if not the YJB? Inquests can’t do it, local authorities can’t do it, the Magistrates Association won’t, and the Ministry of Justice won’t even consider it.

This was a terribly wasted opportunity and real learning would have saved more lives. As it is, the report is so flimsy that mere tinkering appears to be all that is on offer. Meanwhile, children will continue to be sent to the guillotine.

February 20, 2014 · Frances Crook · 3 Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Children and young people

3 Responses

  1. Carole-Anne - February 20, 2014

    My foster son took his own life at 17. He was on licence following his release from a Children’s Secure Unit, where he had served 2 of a 4 month sentence. I tried for an Article 2 Inquest and had a high profile barrister ready to work pro bono, but I couldn’t get a solicitor. Article 2 was denied, as was a Seriouus Case Review. Children’s Social Care had seriously mismanaged his case and closed ranks on every avenue I persued. In fact, the whole system is geared to avoiding anything resembling transparency. Of course all this is happening when parents and carers are at their most vulnerable. I am an intelligent and articulate professional and I did not have the capacity to fight a system hell bent on hiding evidence. This report is sadly, frustratingly predictable

  2. frances crook - February 21, 2014

    Dear Carole-Anne, this is a tragic story and I am so sorry. I am surprised that the local authority refused a serious case review, disgraceful. I will follow up with the Youth Justice Board to discover how many young people have died whilst on licence as I want to know if your foster son was not alone. The YJB must take more responsibility. I do want to send you my condolences. sincerely, Frances Crook

  3. Susana - June 4, 2014

    Dear Carole-Anne,

    The system ie governmental agencies do ‘not’ co-relate. The young person in question, comes under: special complex needs, autism, special educational needs, mental health and phsycial handicaps. Never been in trouble before criminally. Became addicted to a Legal High and within 6 months of doing so, found himself sitting in a police cell for 3 days(for his own safety)due to local CAHMS:Hospital, mental health, social services, etc., completely failing him with the legal high drug addiction. At court social services could not even bother to turn up’ they had to be called by request of the sitting Judge. None of the mental health workers attended court either. I wrote my own legal document on behalf of the young person(my son)even though I am not legally trained. I could go on and on about all what took place prior to the court attendance over the period of the six months, it was a horror story due to the unprofessionalism/inadequacy and the dangers that they created for this young person, those who supposedly work to protect vunerable children/adolescents. If I had not handed in’ the legal document that I wrote for the Judge and then 3 lay magistrates the young person would without doubt have ended up in prison. Even so the challenge goes on for the young person for still the correct professional back up’ is dire and wanting. I consistently have to write up reports/complaints and in doing so, one finds that the agencies through their unprofessional failings turn their powers against you. So not are you only challenging them to keep a vunerable young special needs/autistic child protected and safe but one finds oneself having to protect one’s own character from misleading documentation that the governmental agencies write behind your back to try and get themselves out of trouble by making the guardian who is challenging them look bad by way of defaming ones character. These differing agencies do not work to-gether. Neither it seems are they bothered about protecting young vunerable children/adolescents. By what I watched at the court house on three different occassions it was aboherent and plain to see the desparation for parents with their children who had to appear in an adolescent court house. The parents were confused and frightened let alone the young people. The whole system is rotten to the core. Justice! Real social service help! It seemed near on non-existent to me. In the court room itself they explain nothing to you. If you know nothing about law. If you have never ever sat in a court room before and so on. The case is over before many parents have even understood their childrens rights let alone their, the parents/guardians rights in how they can use the law to aid the child. The Crown Prosecution Service also have a lot to answer to inregards to adolescents/young children when it comes to court hearings. I’ll finish here sorry if I have gone on to long but this field of work burns me to my core in the abuse it lays upon vunerable children and adolscents.

Leave a Reply