Prisoners’ Education Trust calls for children in prison to have access to education

Francesca Cooney
Thursday, July 2, 2020

Back in 2017, a court reviewed the treatment of a child in prison, who had spent more than 100 days separated in isolation without adequate education.

He was locked in his cell for over 22 hours a day, sometimes for more than 15 consecutive days. The court accepted that during times when he had no education, “the lack of mental and physical activity contributed to his frustration and so to his disruptive behaviour”.

In response to this judgement, rather than change the practice of separating children, the Prison Service simply changed the rules. The new rule included oversight arrangements for all children spending more than 22 hours a day locked-up. In theory, this oversight would improve activities and conditions during separation.

But when inspectors carried out a review earlier this year, many safeguards were inconsistent, with no meaningful impact on the time that separated children spent locked-up or on the education they received.

Inspectors found that nearly all children subject to separation spent long periods without any meaningful interactions. They found children who didn’t have a daily shower and telephone call. Shockingly, in the worst cases, children left their cells for just 15 minutes a day.

Although in theory, there were daily checks by managers, nurses and chaplains, this gave an illusion of oversight. Checks were perfunctory, often took place though a locked door, or did not happen at all.

Inspectors recommended that separated children should have access to equivalent education to their peers, including meaningful face-to-face interaction with teachers. Disappointingly, the Prison Service did not accept this recommendation.

An independent taskforce’s review on separation has just been published, which seems ironic when hundreds of imprisoned children are currently experiencing exactly these conditions due to the Covid crisis. Children are locked in their cells for up for 23 hours a day, with limited time out of cell for exercise and fresh air. They have already lost three months of taught education and have no access to online alternatives.

In the community, vulnerable children would have had an individual assessment to enable school attendance. Only one YOI, HMP Parc, has been able to run two hours of face-to-face education every weekday. We support HMIP’s assessment that there is no reason for such different practice across just five YOIs.

Isolating children can have a significant impact on their well-being and creates trauma. Removing them from education disrupts progress and attainment and has a negative effect on future life chances. Children need to learn in safe, engaging spaces, with face-to-face contact with teachers and peers.

We are pleased that the separation review recommends that children have access to more education - but this is not enough. We are disappointed that it did not fundamentally question the practice of separation. In the short term, we are calling for education for children in prison to restart, swiftly and safely. Longer term, we want an end to solitary confinement for children, with its damaging consequences for education and wellbeing.

Francesca Cooney is head of policy at the Prisoners' Education Trust

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