RESPECTING THE HUMAN RIGHTS OF CHILDREN
63. What would a rightsbased approach
to children in custody be? The Children's Rights Alliance for
England offered a definition in its recent report,
from which we freely borrow in proposing the following set of
the obvious exception of the right to liberty, children in custody
should be entitled so far as possible to the same rights, services
and safeguards that can be claimed by children who are not locked
Such rights should be enshrined in primary
legislation whenever possible.
The enjoyment of their rights by children
in custody should, so far as possible, be consistent regardless
of where they are placed.
Children in custody should know what
their rights are.
Children in custody should have independent
assistance in informing them of their rights and, where necessary,
in enforcing their access to them.
64. In 1997, the then Chief Inspector of
Prisons recommended that the Prison Service relinquish responsibility
for children under the age of 18.
Since then changes have been made (notably the establishment of
the Youth Justice Board) which have improved the situation of
children in custody. But the evidence is that not enough has been
done. The Howard League's conclusion in a report published in
2002 is that the
... juvenile prison
system ... is simply
not designed, equipped or resourced to meet the welfare needs
of young people.
65. A number of campaigners have argued
that children in custody should become the responsibility of an
organisation entirely separate from the Prison Service and the
Home Office. We recommend that the Government revisit the idea
of completely separating the organisation responsible for the
custody of offenders under the age of 18 from the Prison Service.
These young people should be looked after by a group of people
whose outlook is firmly grounded in a culture of respect for children's
human rights, devoted to rehabilitation and care. As a starting
point, the Government should also take steps to transfer responsibility
for 15 and 16 year-olds in custody from the Prison Service to
local authorities as soon as possible.