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UK: “Young Lives Behind Bars: The health and human rights of children and young people detained in the criminal justice system”, British Medical Association

31st October 2014

This report by the British Medical Association (BMA) finds that while very child in the UK has an equal right to the conditions necessary for good physical, psychological, and emotional health and wellbeing, in practice this often isn't realised, and children and young people who offend are amongst the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of our society. Despite their high level of need, they are all too often overlooked or let down by the very health and social care services designed to promote their health and wellbeing.

The report finds the reasons underlying offending behaviour to be complex, and while not all of them can be addressed directly by health professionals, there are clear opportunities  to help mitigate some of the underlying causes of offending and to help steer children and young people away from crime. Where children do end up detained, there are also valuable opportunities both to address their previously unmet health needs, and to help prepare them to leave the secure estate and lead healthier lives back in the community.

The report contains recommendations intended to support individual practitioners, working both in the community and within custodial settings, and for policy makers:

  • Health care professionals can play a crucial role at an early stage in the lives of children and young people, by identifying risk factors for future offending and opportunities for intervention;
  • The importance of ensuring health care professionals are properly trained and supported in delivering care to children and young people;
  • The commitment to ensure parity of care in the community and custodial settings should be reaffirmed;
  • The vital role that healthcare professionals can play in the secure estate as patient advocates – in improving the standards of healthcare; in highlighting mistreatment; and in encouraging healthy behaviours and interactions while in detention and after release;
  • The therapeutic and welfare role of the doctor must be kept separate from disciplinary or punitive aspects of the secure estate;
  • Planned approaches towards the specific needs of children in detention need to be developed. Quality mental health, sexual health, and drug and alcohol services are areas in need of particular attention, and cuts to these services in a time of austerity should be minimised;
  • Custody and community services should have joint working practices and robust information sharing systems, to ensure accurate assessment of needs of children and young people entering custody and to facilitate continuity of care after they leave;
  • Practices in the secure estate pose which are detrimental towards mental health and well-being need to be addressed – such as the use of restraints, force and segregation. Longer term, the report also calls upon the government to carry out an in-depth review of the youth secure estate with a view to exploring more welfare-based alternatives to custodial detention.

To read the full report click here.

viewed here