I am deeply concerned about the amended statutory rules for secure training centres. This legislation (The Secure Training Centre (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Rules 2020) legalises the unacceptable treatment some of the most vulnerable children in our society have been experiencing since the start of lockdown. Children in STCs can be as young as 12 and this legislation allows for restrictions to their rights, including no visits from family or professionals and severely reduced access to education and other activities, to be in place during any ‘transmission period’ until the 25th March 2022.
As outlined in our recent briefing, children in custody have been spending between 20 and 22 hours a day in their cells, in conditions which are akin to solitary confinement. I have written to the Lord Chancellor about my concerns for children experiencing these inhumane conditions.
The consequences for children’s rights, well-being and long-term outcomes are stark. These children are highly vulnerable and need significant additional support, which is limited by the restrictions in place. Time in custody should be focused on education and rehabilitation. Without access to this support, the primary aim of the youth justice system – rehabilitation – is impossible to achieve.
The smallest youth justice establishments – Secure Children’s Homes – have managed to maintain a close to full timetable for children throughout the lockdown period, with full access to in-person education.
Children in prison should be treated as children first and not blindly be subjected to rules which are designed for the adult estate, given the wildly different level of risk posed to these populations by Covid-19. If the same rules about social distancing must apply, then the numbers in custody should be drastically reduced, starting with those on remand, to ensure that the remaining children can have more time out of cell and full access to education, therapeutic support, and family visits.
As lockdown eases across the country, we need immediate action to get units back to normal and to support children through this difficult transition. After this crisis, it is imperative that we look to the future and develop a vision for more child-friendly, integrated secure settings for children while reducing the need for children to be in secure provision wherever possible.