The Ministry of Justice has recently published its proposals to reform the system of youth custody in England and Wales through the introduction of secure colleges. In this blog Professor Kathryn Hollingsworth sets out what we know about children currently detained in the juvenile secure estate and considers whether the secure colleges will help to achieve a more rights-consistent and socially-just system of child imprisonment. The blog is based on a Current Legal Problems lecture delivered at UCL on 23rd January 2014 entitled ‘Assuming Responsibility for Incarcerated Children’.
A key issue in relation to social justice for children is how we respond when they break the law. We know that children who offend are likely to have experienced multiple prior disadvantages and those who end up in custody are an especially vulnerable group. Research by Jacobsen et al in 2010, for example, found that 78% of imprisoned children had absent fathers and 33% an absent mother; 51% had lived in a deprived household/unsuitable accommodation; 48% had been excluded from school; 39% were on the child protection register and/or experienced abuse or neglect; 28% had witnessed domestic violence; 27% had experienced local authority care; 20% self-harmed; 11% had attempted suicide; 17% had a diagnosed mental disorder and 13% had experienced the bereavement of their father, mother or sibling.