Children in prison were spending just 40 minutes out of cells and no longer able to see families

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Children in prison were spending just 40 minutes out of cells and no longer able to see families

A constant watch cell at Aylesbury YOI. Pic: Andy Aitchison

Children in prison were spending just 40 minutes out of their cells and contact with the outside world curtailed so that they were no longer able to see families or friends. New research by the National Association for Youth Justice, highlighted the over-representation of minority ethnic children in prison as well as the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the State of Youth Justice report, two of the three young offender institutes inspected limited education to undertaking worksheets in their cells whilst the third establishment was able to provide just two hours face-to-face education on school days. The report found that the time children spent out of cell varied from three hours a day to just 40 minutes.

The report, authored by Dr Tim Bateman, Reader in Youth Justice at the University of Bedfordshire, found that contact with the outside world had been curtailed with the consequence that ‘children no longer have any face-to-face interaction with families or friends, nor visits from social workers, YOT staff or lawyers’.

The research noted that almost one in three children arrested for a notifiable offence in 2019 was recorded as being black or from a minority ethnic group. ‘Wider inequalities do not tell the whole story,’ the research said. ‘In 2019, black people were subject to stop and search at almost ten times the rate for the white population. Differential police practice in this regard further undermines the trust that black children have in authority, reinforcing perceptions that criminal justice agencies discriminate against them. Black children who enter the system are also more likely to receive harsher levels of punishment.’

Black children were more likely to experience longer sentences of imprisonment. While in May 2005 minority ethnic children accounted for one quarter of those in custody, by the same month in 2019, that proportion had risen to 51%. Between 2005 and 2019, the white population of the secure estate had declined by 80%; the equivalent reduction for BAME children was just 38%.

Over the last decade, there have been some remarkable changes in the youth justice system, leading to lower levels of criminalisation of children and encouraging reductions in the extent of child imprisonment,’ commented Dr Bateman. ‘But there remains a considerable gap between the rhetoric of child first and ensuring that a child first philosophy and practice is fully embedded in the treatment of children in conflict with the law.’

The growing over-representation of minority ethnic children was ‘nothing short of a disgrace and the treatment of children in custody is totally unacceptable’, he said.

The study highlighted ‘a remarkable decline’ in the number of females entering the youth justice system. ‘Girl’s detected indictable offending fell by an astonishing 95% between 1992 and 2018,’ it said. ‘By contrast, there are disconcerting indicators of differential treatment of young people from different ethnic groups.’