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Frances Crook's blog · 19 Jan 2016

Howard League’s legal work

This is the second in what will be regular bulletins about the Howard League’s legal work to help children and young adults in custody.

We received calls on our confidential legal advice line relating to 80 individual young people in December, fewer than normal because of the holidays. The most common issues were prison punishments and adjudications, resettlement, complaints, segregation, poor treatment and transfers.

Fifteen of the calls related to children and 41 were about young adults. People sometimes call the Howard League about adults in custody or adult prisoners call, but we only deal with young people so we normally recommend a more suitable service.  Just over half of the calls related to people from BME backgrounds.

We received requests for help from four young adults who had been held in segregation in excess of 42 days (six weeks, a long time for a teenager to be locked in a cell alone with nothing to do.) Three of them had been segregated following a large fight on the prison wing.  All three denied any involvement in the fight and were not present when it took place. They were informed by the prison that there was intelligence to indicate that they had been involved. They were not charged with a breach of prison rules or referred to the police.

We assisted the young people with complaints, contacted NOMS at a senior level to inform them of our concerns, and inquired as to whether or not the obligatory 42 day review had taken place. It is very worrying that despite the Supreme Court’s concerns last summer about the irreversible damage that can be caused after just 15 days of isolation, the new system allows for segregation well beyond that point. The legal team will continue to challenge this.

We have a high number of calls requesting representation for children and young adults referred by prison governors to district judges for disciplinary matters. The overwhelming majority of these are from Aylesbury prison. It is not a coincidence that Aylesbury inflicted the highest number of additional days of imprisonment of any prison in the country last year – 9,428 days or nearly 26 years, despite it being only a medium sized prison holding teenagers and young adults.

We receive calls for help with children and young people who are recalled to prison. We assisted a 15 year old boy who was recalled for breach of curfew; his licence conditions included a six month curfew which he complied with. Following his being the victim of an unprovoked attack outside his care home, resulting in his being hospitalised, he was put back on curfew for another three months at the same address. He was so concerned for his safety at the care home that he would only return at night when he thought he had to; despite this, he was recalled for breaching the curfew.

The Howard League advice line is the only confidential legal service available to children and young adults in custody for help about their incarceration. We are very busy.c

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