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by Bethany Rielly
THE government’s “cruel” and “extreme” policy of locking up detained children for 23 hours a day is the result of ministers’ “incompetent failure” to control coronavirus, Labour said today.
Under measures intended to contain the spread of Covid-19, youth detention facilities have been allowed to keep children as young as 12 in their cells for all but 40 minutes a day.
The practice has been described by United Nations torture expert Nils Melzer as “inhumane.”
Quoted by the Guardian on Monday, Mr Melzer said that solitary confinement of children should only be used in “exceptional cases” and warned that the impact of such measures could affect “this young generation for decades to come.”
Responding to the UN expert’s comments, shadow justice secretary David Lammy said: “Since the start of this pandemic, Labour has been clear that it is totally wrong to leave children in custody locked up in their cells for 23 hours per day.
“Treating children like this will increase the chances of them re-offending, damage their mental health and ultimately mean that there are more victims of crime in the future.
“The government’s extreme and cruel approach is a result of their incompetent failure to get control of the virus.”
The measures, which came into force in March, affect about 500 children in youth detention and another 4,000 18 to 21-year-olds held in adult prisons.
Last month, the British Medical Association called for an end to solitary confinement in child detention facilities.
The doctors’ union said that the practice was already widespread before the pandemic, estimating that 38 per cent of boys in detention have spent time in solitary confinement, with stays of over 80 days being reported.
Professor Parveen Kumar, who chairs the BMA board of science, said: “As children are still in the crucial stages of developing socially, psychologically, and neurologically, there are serious risks of solitary confinement causing long-term psychiatric and developmental harm.
“There is also evidence that it is counterproductive. Rather than improving behaviour, solitary confinement fails to address the underlying causes and creates problems with reintegration into society.”
The Ministry of Justice said that young people are now spending “at least four hours a day” out of their cells.
However, the Howard League for Penal Reform, which support prisoners and runs a helpline for child detainees, said that the amount of time children are allowed out of their cells remains “patchy.”
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