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Ian Sparks speaks to BBC's Newsbeat
"Our core message is: remands to custody don't work"
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Friday, 24 November, 2000, 04:12 GMT
Call to end child jailing
Feltham Young Offeners Institution
A report says jails are just warehouses for youngsters
An end to sending children of 15 and 16 to jail has been demanded by prisons inspector Sir David Ramsbotham and the Children's Society charity.

Their call follows the publication of a report showing England and Wales lock up more teenagers than any other country in western Europe.

It also found that over the last decade, 18 people aged 15 to 17-years-old committed suicide in young offenders' institutions.

We cannot continue this shameful neglect of troubled young people and call ourselves a civilized society

Ian Sparks
The report says prison is acting as a warehouse for the UK's most damaged and troubled children.

It says more than half the teenagers in prison in England and Wales suffer from mental illness.

The number of children in custody has increased by 11% to 3,000 in the past year.

The report advocates bail support schemes like that used by Peter, now 18.

Previously remanded in custody, he told the BBC's Newsbeat programme: "Bail support made me realise crime was not worth it."

"I now have a good job, I have a house, a fiancee and a good relationship with my mother and father."

HM Inspector of Prisons Sir David Ramsbotham said: "I strongly support the call for the immediate ending for the remanding of 15 and 16-year-olds into prison service custody."

Sir David Ramsbotham
Sir David Ramsbotham: "Dangerous trend"
"The present treatment and the conditions in which they are held is not acceptable.

He added: "If we continue to neglect these young people, if we continue to allow these conditions to prevail, we are setting a very very dangerous trend for the nation as a whole."

Children's Society chief executive Ian Sparks said: "Ten years ago 15-year-old Philip Knight hanged himself in Swansea. A decade on little has changed."

"The system has gone beyond crisis point, which is why we are starting with a call to action to everyone involved in youth justice to immediately end the practice of imprisoning 15 and 16-year-olds awaiting trial.

"This isn't just an issue of government. Everyone from magistrates to lawyers, from police to youth offending teams needs to back us.

Concern over minorities

"We cannot continue this shameful neglect of troubled young people and call ourselves a civilised society."

There is particular concern over the number of children from ethnic minorities being sent to prison awaiting trial, he added.

But the report has been attacked by a government agency set up to reform the youth justice system.

The call to stop jailing 15 and 16-year-olds was described as "unrealistic" by Lord Warner, chairman of the Youth Justice Board, which started work earlier this year.

"Calling for something that cannot be achieved could damage the public credibility of the reforms now being implemented," he warned.

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