Pledge to close all child prisons in election manifestos, urge campaigners

All prisons for children should be closed and young people only prosecuted as a last resort, according to a raft of demands from a coalition of more than 70 children's organisations.

Children should only be incarcerated in secure children's homes, according to campaigners. Picture: Guzelian
Children should only be incarcerated in secure children's homes, according to campaigners. Picture: Guzelian

The demands are outlined by Together for Children as manifesto pledges the coalition wants to see adopted by political parties ahead of December's general election.

The group wants to see all prisons for children, including young offender institutions and secure training centres (STCs), shut down.

It calls for politicians to "ensure children's contact with the criminal justice system is a last resort", and where this is necessary for their own safety and for the public's protection, this should be in council-run secure children's homes.

No child should be criminalised due to abuse or exploitation, adds the group, which also calls for the minimum age of criminal responsibility to be raised.

The calls appear to contrast starkly with the current government strategy, with plans to strengthen the youth secure estate with a secure school on the site of Medway STC.

During a June parliamentary debate on ending child imprisonment, justice minister Edward Argar admitted that the youth secure estate "requires real reform", but said he believed that the system needs to retain custody as an option.

The campaign, whose members include children's rights charity Article 39, the Child Poverty Action Group and the British Association of Social Workers, is calling on the next government to ensure the UN's Convention on the Rights of the Child is incorporated into UK law.

This includes a commitment to tackle child poverty and end discrimination for asylum-seeking families, among the group's 30-strong list of demands.

"Over the thirty years since we signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child, government policy affecting children has been increasingly fragmented, and departments have struggled to co-operate on a shared, holistic vision for children's wellbeing," said Children England chief executive Kathy Evans.

"These pledges set out a thorough framework that all departments can use to ensure children are at the heart of policymaking."

Action is also needed to better support children in school, tackle exclusions and promote inclusion, they claim.

The exclusion of primary school pupils, for a fixed period or permanently, should be unlawful, says the group.

It is also calling for a national inclusion drive, backed with resources, to be set up and greater action is needed to address the practice of "off-rolling", where schools are unofficially excluding pupils, including those with special educational needs or disabilities.

Ofsted has identified 300 schools where off-rolling of pupils is suspected, according to its 2018 annual report.

Other calls from Together for Children include extending the right to vote to 16- and 17-year-olds.

This measure has been proposed by the Scottish National Party and the Labour Party but was not selected this month as an amendment to the parliamentary vote on setting a general election, which will take place on 12 December.

Article 39 director Carolyne Willow, said: "Children have no vote but what's promised and delivered through this general election will have a massive impact on their lives, happiness and future.

"We want to see children and their rights at the heart of manifestos - not the odd mention here and there but a systematic strategy for making our country among the best in the world for children's rights."

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