14th January, 2022 6:19 pm

Secondary legislation which allowed children in prison to be locked in cells for up to 22 hours a day at the height of the pandemic will end in March, it has been confirmed.

Children faced 22 hours a day in cells under the rules. Picture: Adobe Stock
Children faced 22 hours a day in cells under the rules. Picture: Adobe Stock

Controversial changes to protections for children in young offender institutions (YOIs) and secure training centres (STCs) were introduced in March 2020 at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The changes saw children’s access to education reduced, visits from relatives cancelled and, in some cases, young people were only allowed out of their cells for two hours a day.

Charities supporting young people in the youth secure estate have welcomed confirmation that secondary legislation relating to YOIs will end on 24 March and rules relating to STCs will end on 25 March.

The changes, which reinstate pre-pandemic rights for children in YOIs, will be introduced via the The Prison and Young Offender Institution (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Rules 2022, which were laid before Parliament on 5 January 2022 and come into force on 26 January 2022.

The statutory instrument notes that children’s entitlements in such settings will be reinstated on 24 March 2022.

The Secure Training Centre (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Rules 2020, which reduced children’s rights in secure training centres, are due to expire on 25 March 2022.

The move comes after the Howard League and Article 39 called on then Justice Secretary Sajid Javid to reinstate rights for children in the youth justice estate in a letter sent in September last year.

Carolyne Willow, director of Article 39, said: “While the rest of the country responded to the first lockdown in 2020 by holding our children close and trying to make life as normal as possible for them, here we had central government rushing through secondary legislation to reduce children’s entitlements to education, time with their family and physical education.

“Council-run secure children’s homes were able to stay focused on children’s needs and welfare. It’s a disgrace that these legal changes were pressed through without any consultation or parliamentary debate and there’s no doubt they effectively gave the green light to widespread solitary confinement in child prisons.”

Laura Janes, legal director at The Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “For almost two years, the children the Howard League works with in prisons and STCs have been deprived of so much more than their liberty. While innovative solutions were found in the community even during the most severe stages of the pandemic to keep children learning, education for children in prison has been either non-existent or patchy.

“Many children have had no family visits and have spent many hours alone doing nothing when they should be learning and developing positive lives for themselves. The end of this era should be widely publicised to ensure transparency and accountability.”

Source: Children &  Young People Now

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