Irish Penal Reform Trust

Terres des hommes: Accelerate release of children from detention

27th March 2020

Terre des hommes is calling on States to accelerate the release of children in detention. The organisation, a leading actor in the area of children’s aid, has called for the implementation of non-custodial measures to ensure safe reintegration of children into families and communities. In cases where children cannot be released, measures should be in place by States to safeguard children’s health. 

Recent research suggests that children deprived of their liberty are likely to carry a higher burden of poor health. International law stipulates that children should only be deprived of liberty as a measure of last resort and for the shortest period of time yet, estimates suggest 7.2 million children worldwide are detained in various settings including criminal justice detention institutions, police custody, immigration detention centres and within care and protection facilities.

Urgent action by policy makers, judicial actors and law enforcement authorities is needed to address the impacts of the pandemic on children deprived of their liberty. States have a responsibility to protect children who are deprived of liberty from the risks associated with COVID-19 pandemic. Terres des hommes calls for a reduction in the risks of infection and transmission of COVID-19 in criminal justice institutions by reducing the number of children detained. Actions may include:  

    1. Stop arrest and detention in police custody of children accused of committing minor offences in favour of police-initiated diversion programmes and pre-court interventions such as a caution or restorative programmes. 
    2. Refrain from prosecuting children for minor offences.
    3. Accelerate the release of children from detention by prioritising those who are pending trial or sentences for petty crimes, those nearing the end of their sentences (through clemency and amnesty), and those with medical conditions.
    4. Measures for depriving children of liberty should be commuted into non-custodial and community-based measures. The conditions of release should account for specialised support to enable children’s safe reintegration.
    5. Where is it not possible to release children, then institutions must ensure that children in detention should enjoy the same standards of health care that are available in the outside community. Introduce child-friendly quarantine measures which are respectful of human rights and children rights, such as video counselling, communication with families, access to health services and access to information, should be ensured.

The statement also calls for additional measures to release children and their families held in immigration detention, and for the health and safety of frontline workers in the justice and protection systems to be protected.

Read the full statement from Terre des hommes (Helping Children Worldwide) here.

Respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.

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