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‘It’s just too long’: children in detention may face Covid-19 restrictions until 2022 | Global development | #covid19 | #kids | #childern | #parenting | #parenting | #kids


The Ministry of Justice has said that new rules that allow youth detention facilities to hold children in solitary confinement for up to 22 hours a day to prevent the spread of Covid-19 could remain in place for two years despite lockdown measures being relaxed for the rest of the UK.

Lawyers have told the Guardian that time out of cells and access to education are still being severely curtailed in many facilities across the country.

“The recent announcement by the MoJ that these restrictions could go on in some form until next year or even further is very concerning,” said Jude Lanchin of Bindmans solicitors.

Lanchin told the Guardian that one of her clients, a 16-year-old held in a secure training centre, was being severely affected by having to spend every day alone in his cell.

“My client is on remand and has not even been convicted of an offence. It has been extremely difficult to work with him on the case and I was only able to see him recently on video-link for the first time after months of detention,” she said. “He has told me the hours in his cell mean ‘things go round and round in my head’. As a ‘looked-after’ child in care, he already had issues of concern and has now become depressed, anxious and agitated.”

Penal reform and children’s charities say that there is already evidence that the regulations are impacting on the human rights of young people in detention, with many still on very restricted regimes, even as the UK emerges from lockdown.

Laura Janes is the legal director of the Howard League for Penal Reform. She said: “It has been moving to speak to children over the past week who are really excited about face-to-face education starting up again. But my team is aware of a number of children in young offender institutions and secure training centres who last week were still in solitary confinement most days, spending 22 hours a day in their cells.”

She said the charity has been receiving reports from young people who say their mental health is suffering as a result, describing their situation as ‘‘stressful”, “awful” and “depressing”.

In March as the UK went into lockdown, severe restrictions were placed on young people in detention to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Young people aged between 12 and 17 were put into what amounted to full solitary confinement in their cells, alone, for up to 23.5 hours a day. Almost all education and therapeutic services stopped. In secure training centres, children’s right to 14 hours out of their cell was changed to 1.5 hours.

The practice was introduced in March but was translated into official policy over the next few months, most recently for secure training centres in early July, with an end date of March 2022.

Young offenders outside their cells at Littlehey, a category C prison near Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire.


Young offenders outside their cells at Littlehey, Cambridgeshire. Children in detention are still on restricted regimes, even as the UK emerges from lockdown. Photograph: Andrew Aitchison/Corbis

The MoJ said there had been some easing of restrictions but that the legislation was needed to ensure that any new outbreaks could be swiftly contained. Last week Lucy Frazer, the minister for prisons, addressed the justice committee and defended the ongoing power to restrict time out of cells.

She said: “Our aim is to open up as much as possible. We want to ensure that we have the legal framework [for a restricted regime] in case we have regional outbreaks or another national outbreak.”

Sir Bob Neill, chair of the justice committee, pressed Frazer on why the powers are set to last for longer than other Covid-19 regulations across the UK.

Speaking to the Guardian after the committee hearing, he said: “It’s just too long. These are exceptional measures for specific circumstances. You don’t want institutional inertia to see the powers used too much and we’ve seen that happen too often in prisons, it’s a very easy thing to happen with the pressures they face.”



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