Thursday, 3 June 2010

Which Children do we send to Prison

By John Moore (Originally published on NMP's website in 2003)

Which Children do we send to Prison

Imagine a government that wanted to ensure high levels of crime. Imagine that to achieve it they set up training camps for children to produce the criminals of tomorrow. In chosing the children to place in these factories of criminality it would make sense to select children with the most potential. In particular you would select children with poor educational achievement, those with experiences of physical or sexual abuse, those in poor mental health particularly those showing signs of personality disorder or psychotic illness and those with alcohol and drug problems.

These are exactly the children we choose to send to prison in Britian today.

Educational Disadvantaged Children

The fact that our prisons are attracting educational disadvantaged youth is well established. (Graham and Bowling 1995, Audit Commission 1996) In its 2002 report 'Reducing re-offending by ex-prisoners' the Governments Social Exclusion Unit reported that nearly half the children in prison have literacy and numeracy levels below that of the average 11year old, indeed over a quarter have level equivalent to an average 7 year old. (SEU 2002). In statistics provided by HM Inspectorate of Prisons Hodgkin (2002) show that 84% had been excluded from school with 60% excluded on two or more occasions. In addition 9% last attended school when they were 11 or younger. A former Chief Inspector of Prisons has given an extreme example of the extent to which imprisoned children had been denied educational opportunities. "I found one boy in a young offender institution who had been expelled from his playgroup at the age of four, and never allowed to attend primary or secondary school" (Ramsbottom 2002)

The Prison Inspectorate undertook a detailed review of education and training for children in prison jointly with OFSTED. The resulting reported noted the average spend per child prisoner was £1,810 compared to over £16,000 in both secure training centers and local authority secure units (HMIP A Second Chance 2002). The report in particular was critical of special educational provision. This is obvious a serious concern given the needs of the children in our prisons.

Abused Children

The Social Exclusion Unit have found that over half the children in custody have been in care or otherwise known to social services, One in three girls reported sexual abuse and two out of five had suffered violence in the home. One in twenty of the boys admitted being a victim of sexual abuse and one in four had suffered violence in the home. (SEU 2002). These are significant figures and indicate a very high level of vulnerability. Using information provided by HM Prisons Inspectorate Hodgkin (2002) reports that one in three children have been in care and just under a half had been in custody before. She also noted that one in ten were themselves parents.

Disturbed Children

There is considerable evidence of the appalling state of young prisoner's mental health (Hagell 2002). To illustrate the disturbed characteristic of these children between January 1998 and January 2002 there were 1111 reported incidents of self-harm by children in prisons. In the same period 11 boys committed suicide. (Hodgkin 2002)The Social Exclusion Unit?s description of the characteristics of imprisoned children are deeply worrying. Two out of five boys and two out of three girls had symptoms of anxiety, depression, fatigue or related problems. One in ten showed signs of a psychotic illness and 85% signs of a personality disorder (SEU 2002)

As Hodgkin has observed. 'The Prison Service is taking the mentally ill children that nobody else wants.' (Hodgkin 2002 Page 56)

Addicted Children

The links between drugs and offending are well established and much current policy is focused on responding to this link. However there tends to be less emphasis on the role of alcohol. This is a serious omission. As the SEU report indicates whilst one in four girls and one in seven boys were dependant on opiates, over half the girl population and two thirds of the boys had alcohol problems prior to being sent to prison. (SEU 2002) Hodgkin's analyses of HM Prisons Inspectorates records indicate that 33% of children had drug problems on imprisonment but only 21% had alcohol problems. The majority of these had received no help for their drug or alcohol problems in prison (Hodkin 2002).

In addition Black and Minority Ethnic Children are over represented in the children we imprison, an over representation by five times according to the Governments Social Exclusion Unit.(SEU 2002). However from HM Prisons Inspectorate statistics indicate that in fact they are over represented ten times. (Hodgkin 2002)

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