Britain is failing young people in custody | Letters

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Gareth Myatt, who was asphyxiated while being restrained at a young offenders’ institute in 2004. Photograph: Northamptonshire Police/PA

Inquest’s work with bereaved families has consistently revealed a litany of systemic neglect, violence, institutional complacency and short-sighted policies which contribute to the deaths and harm of children and young people (Report on Northants children’s prison finds rise in violent incidents, 9 August).

These deaths are the most extreme outcome of a system that fails some of society’s most disadvantaged children and young people. Ten years ago, in July 2007, the judge at the inquest into the death in 2004 of 15-year-old Gareth Myatt, asphyxiated as a result of being restrained by three officers at Rainsbrook, delivered a damning indictment of the treatment of young people in custody, and wrote a 17-page letter to the then secretary of state for justice and lord chancellor saying that it would be “wholly unforgivable and a double tragedy” if there was any delay in learning from and acting upon the lessons of Gareth’s death.

That high levels of restraint and force continue, and that systems to safeguard children are not in place, shows that lessons have not been acted upon and these institutions are incapable of reform. The chief inspector of prisons recently conceded that no young person is safe in British custody. We agree. This consistent neglect of young people in state custody represents nothing less than state-sanctioned child abuse. It must end. It is time for “secure training centres”, including Rainsbrook, to be closed and reinvestment in community-based child focused therapeutic alternatives.
Deborah Coles, Prof Joe Sim and Prof Steve Tombs Inquest

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