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Child jail complaints system urged

A charity has threatened legal action unless the Government brings in "an effective and independent" complaints procedure for children detained in privately run secure training centres (STCs).

The Howard League for Penal Reform challenged Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, in an open "letter before action", to confirm that he will implement plans to change the system in a fixed timeframe or face a judicial review.

The charity's legal team points out that children are placed in STCs because they are considered especially vulnerable, but they do not have access to effective and independent investigation for complaints of mistreatment.

Figures published by the Ministry of Justice in January showed that during the year 2011-12 there were on average 111 incidents of physical restraint per month in STCs, the charity said.

These affected more than 18% of children detained in STCs, many of whom were subject to more than one restraint per month. In the same year, 68 restraint incidents resulted in injury.

The letter says: "The Howard League for Penal Reform has represented and assisted children in prison since 2002. We are deeply concerned by this on-going failure which we can see affects the safety of children in prison and the accountability of staff. We therefore invite the Secretary of State for Justice to put in place a complaints system for children in STCs forthwith that is fit for purpose and includes an accessible right of appeal to an independent body."

The charity said that children in Young Offender Institutions (YOIs), who are considered to be less vulnerable than children in STCs, and adult prisoners are entitled to an independent review by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman.

The charity's chief executive Frances Crook said: "Giving children access to justice, fairness and redress when an institution is abusive is absolutely fundamental. Over the past 100 years there have been too many cases of children being abused in institutions. Unless they are listened to we will see more disasters.

"These child jails for profit have existed for 20 years yet there has been no proper public scrutiny of what has happened to the billions of taxpayers' money. We have to make sure children know they will be listened to by someone fair and impartial when things are going wrong if we are to change the culture of impunity, change poor practice and avoid children being seriously mistreated."

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "Young people in custody are some of the most vulnerable in our society; their safety is our priority and restraint should only ever be used as a last resort. There are a number of routes for young people to take, if they have a complaint regarding their treatment in custody. We are looking into the points raised by the Howard League, and will respond in due course."


From Belfast Telegraph