Over 10,000 children under 13 in cells every year must be stopped

Sophie Willett writes about the Howard League's aim to end the practice of jailing children under 13, which currently causes over 10,000 children to be locked up each year.


Sophie Willett is the press officer for the Howard League for Penal Reform

With tens of thousands of children aged under 16 being detained overnight in police cells the majority of whom are innocent of any crime, the Howard League for Penal Reform has called for a ban on overnight police detention of under 14s, calling it a ‘dangerous and frightening practice that does more harm than good’.

The charity hopes to spare least 11,500 children between the age of 10 to 13 the trauma of being detained overnight in a police cell every year.

According to figures released today in a report published by the Howard League on the overnight detention of children in police cells, at least 53,000 children aged under 16 were detained overnight in just over half the country’s police cells in 2008 and 2009.

The report also recommends raising the age of criminal responsibility in line with European standards of 14 years. This would stem the flow of children into police custody.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform said:

“I was horrified to discover how prevalent the practice is of holding young children in police cells for one or even several nights across the country. The figures from the report are still an underestimation as only half of police forces responded to our FOI request.

“What children need is somewhere safe, not somewhere secure. From conversations we have had with the police it seemsthat some children are being held in police cells for child protection reasons, for example when a child is found out alone at night.

“The Howard League is warning that this will increase as local authorities face cuts to children’s services. If parents can’t be relied upon to provide a safe place for these children, it is up to the local authority.

A police cell is not an appropriate place for children, and this commonplace, dangerous and frightening practice does more harm than good.

See also:

Tabloid rage wins the sentencing argumentAndrew Neilson, June 22nd 2011

Government’s latest u-turn puts political goals ahead of effective jailsFrances Crook, June 9th 2011

Cool Clarke sends Sun frothy at mouthApril 27th 2011, Andrew Neilson

Cuts to probation service could pave the way to disasterSophie Willett, March 14th 2011

Making the rehabilitation revolution a realityAndrew Neilson, February 23rd 2011

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