5th February 2014

INQUEST briefing published as leading charities join call in letter to Daily Telegraph today

INQUEST is once again urging the government to establish an independent review into the deaths of children and young people in prison, ahead of an expected decision by the government this week.  Leading charities and NGOs have joined the call in a letter published in the Daily Telegraph newspaper today.

The government has been considering whether to hold an independent review since INQUEST and the Prison Reform Trust published Fatally Flawed: has the state learned lessons from the deaths of children and young people in prison, which examined the experiences of children and young people who died in prison between 2003 and 2010.

Following an earlier refusal in May 2013, Prisons Minister Jeremy Wright agreed to reconsider and is due to make the decision public this week. 

INQUEST has also today published a comprehensive briefing on why a review is so urgently needed.

INQUEST’s analysis shows:

  • In the last ten years, 163 children and young people aged 24 and under have died in prison
    • There have been 12 self-inflicted deaths since the Minister announced his original decision on 14 May 2013 not to hold a review, including three already this year
    • INQUEST’s analysis of the deaths from 2011 to date has revealed that:
    - the vast majority were self-inflicted deaths; 
    - 2 of the 3 children who died and nearly a third of the young people aged 18-24 years old were subject to an ACCT (self-harm and suicide monitoring) at the time of their death.

Similar failings have been revealed at inquest after inquest yet there has been no attempt to address the wider systemic issues, many of which go beyond the prison walls.

Deborah Coles, co-director of INQUEST said:

“The state has frequently been put on notice about the scandal of deaths of children and young people in custody and yet has failed to act.

“The relentless nature of these deaths is shocking enough but the recurrence of depressingly familiar failings year after year should give most cause for alarm. Investigations and inquests are held in isolation, limited in remit and cannot address the wider systemic failures in state care both within and outside prisons.  The government’s response has been fragmented and piecemeal, with little recognition of the wider public health and welfare implications, as well as criminal justice issues, raised by these deaths.

“There is an urgent need for an independent, holistic, root and branch review into the wider systemic and policy issues underlying these deaths. The deaths of three young people already this year are a stark reminder of the urgency of the situation. The government must be held to account and can no longer ignore the need to learn from the failures that have cost these children and young people their lives.”


Notes to editors:

  1. INQUEST’s briefing can be accessed here. The letter published in the Telegraph is available here.
  2. INQUEST’s analysis of our casework on the deaths of children and young people aged 24 and under reveals:
    • A large number of young people who died in custody were diagnosed with ADHD, special educational needs, personality disorders, conduct disorders, attachment disorders and other vulnerabilities – some of which have a statistical link to self-harm and suicide;
    • Inadequacy of staff training in mental health awareness and issues to deal with these vulnerabilities;
    • Multi-agency failures in verbal and written communications so individual vulnerabilities and specific needs failed to be identified and addressed by prison staff;
    • In those individuals where vulnerability had been properly identified, high numbers of deaths whilst on ACCTs.
  3. There is an added impetus for an independent review given the Ministry of  Justice’s plans to create “fortified schools” for children in custody and scrap Young Offender Institutions to place all those aged 18 or older in mainstream adult prisons.

Recommendations and an action plan from an independent review of deaths in custody is urgently needed in light of recently announced government proposals for these age groups. For example, the government’s announcement on 17 January that they were to spend £85million building and opening a secure college in Leicestershire which will hold up to 320 young people in custody. This follows hard on the heels of government proposals to scrap Young Offender Institutions and place more young people in adult prisons (in the Ministry of Justice consultation on “Transforming Management of Young Adults in Custody” published last year). Both proposals could exacerbate the existing flaws in the system to create significant risks to the lives and safety of children and young people in custody.