On 16 May the Interagency Panel on Juvenile Justice (IPJJ), PRI and Child Rights International Network (CRIN) welcomed over 50 guests to a Seminar on Reducing Incarceration of Children: good practice from the UK and overseas. Panel guests represented leading agencies working with the UK and abroad including:
- Juliet Lyon, Prison Reform Trust
- Tabitha Kassem, Howard League for Penal Reform
- Lisa Messina-Harvey, Youth Justice Board
- Valérie Lebaux, UN Office on Drugs and Crime; and
- Bernard Boëton, Terre des Hommes.
The Seminar was chaired by Nikhil Roy from PRI with closing remarks and reflections by Veronica Yates from CRIN.
Presentations and discussions from the event brought up a number of poignant and important issues on the incarceration of children and how it can best be reduced:
- The importance of working on a national and local level to tackle high rates of child incarceration. For example, the Prison Reform Trust’s Out of Trouble programme which worked with 19 local authorities identified as having the highest levels of child custody. The programme established why levels were so high compared to similar local authorities and how they could address this.
- Identifying arrest and police detention as the ‘gateway’ to the criminal justice system and reducing numbers at this point and its influence on reducing incarceration more generally. For example, in the UK the Howard League recently participated in a case resulting in the ruling by the High Court that treating 17-year-olds at the police station in the same way as adults is unlawful.
- The importance of legal aid for children. This was highlighted as a global issue, with access to legal aid often the enabler for reducing child incarceration by increasing the chances of children being provided with alternatives to custody, diversion etc. The attacks on the UK legal aid system and its limiting effect on children’s access to the courts were also discussed more specifically and the fact that children will no longer be able to get legal help and advice for issues concerning their sentence or treatment, unless they pay for it, which it is clear they will be unlikely to be able to do.
- The need for greater data collection both globally as very few countries collect comprehensive, or any, data on children in contact or conflict with the justice system, and specifically, the availability of any disaggregated data. Further, the importance of ensuring figures aren’t manipulated for political or media capital was highlighted.
- The essential need for child participation in their own reintegration and rehabilitation was discussed. It was noted that positively, more and more organisations are beginning to implement this in their work, and this trend must be encouraged and continued.
- The minimum age of criminal responsibility was also discussed. Specifically it was highlighted that whatever the age of criminal responsibility is, it is important for States to have a wide range of options and possibilities for the protection of a child, whatever his or her age.
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