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Frances Crook's blog · 14 Sep 2017

Children and education in prison

Frances Crook

The Howard League made a complaint on behalf of a fifteen year old boy who was not getting sufficient education in prison. The child, who wishes to remain anonymous, had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and Attention Deficit Disorder before he went to jail as a young teenager. His local authority issued him with a statement of special education needs (SEN) when he was around ten or eleven years old.

The Howard League legal team wrote to the prison back in May 2015, pointing out that the prison had a duty to provide him with sufficient education, including physical education. Due to his statement, he required not only access to education but education that met his needs. The Howard League pointed out that a parent failing to secure their child’s attendance at school in the community in this way could find themselves subject to a child protection investigation or criminal charges.

The prison said that his educational regime was not restricted because he attended education in the morning and every other afternoon at the gym. The child was allocated a job as a wing-cleaner in the afternoon because he was considered high-risk and had already completed all the available courses for high-risk children. The Howard League escalated the complaint, arguing that this was not acceptable and showed the prison was failing to make adjustments for the child’s special educational needs.

The Ombudsman investigated the complaint and reported back this summer. He noted that all children should receive at least fifteen hours a week of education, and it should only occasionally fall beneath this. In seven of the fifteen weeks examined, this child received less than fifteen hours a week of education. The Ombudsman concluded this was “unacceptable”. The Ombudsman also considered whether or not the child received sufficient support for his special education needs. Notwithstanding that the child was unacceptably restricted in accessing the requisite amount of education and that his statement had not been transferred to the new system of health and education plans as legally required or reviewed since 2009, the Ombudsman did not uphold this part of the complaint. However, he did note that the statement needed to be reviewed and transferred to the new system and recommended that the prison take steps to ensure the child’s local authority makes this happen.

We have written to the Ministry of Justice’s new Youth Custody Service and the Youth Justice Board asking for urgent changes to be made to practice in prisons.

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