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Promoting the rights of children in custody

21st January 2004

Dr Moore reviewed the findings of In Our Care: Promoting the Rights of Children in Custody, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission's investigation into the care of children in juvenile justice centres.  Published in March 2002, In Our Care is based upon an analysis of relevant legislation pertaining to young people, a review of documentation and international human rights standards, interviews children and staff in several juvenile justice centres, and meeting with key people involved in the operation of the juvenile justice system including probation officers.

According to the report, "Most children entering custody present challenging behaviour.  The responsibilities of management and staff are many and complex.  These children are in the care of the state and there is an onus on all of society to contribute constructively to their well-being and reintegration.  Human rights provide a framework for transforming the care of children in the youth justice system."

As a result of the Commission's investigation, the report makes a series of findings and recommendations on both juvenile justice legislation and the conditions of confinement within detention facilities.  Among the key findings are 

  • International standards state that children should be detained only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest period of time.
  • There is an over-representation of children from care backgrounds in custody especially on remand, yet these children are not any more likely to receive custodial sentences than other young people.
  • Children's rights in assessment and planning can only be achieved if sufficient resources are there to meet the needs identified and the investigation found that this was not the case in relation to education, health care and rehabilitation.
  • International standards emphasise the need to prevent offending, divert young people from the formal court system and undertake rehabilitative work in the community.  Children deprived of their liberty have a right to be guaranteed the benefit of meaningful activities and programmes aimed at developing their potential as members of society. 
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