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  • Sara Chitseko

An end to child imprisonment?

Updated: Aug 8, 2019

The political activist, Angela Davis famously said, "Prisons do not disappear social problems, they disappear human beings." Her words resonate, particularly as this month MPs were debating whether to end child imprisonment. The UK imprisons children at a higher rate than any other country in western Europe and the conditions which children are subject to while incarcerated is nothing short from state-sanctioned child abuse.

At the debate, MP, Emma Lewell-Buck described how, "up to 92% of children in custody have suffered prior physical or sexual abuse, or neglect, and nearly half have been in the care system. Children in custody are three times more likely than their peers to have suffered the death of a parent or sibling, and three times more likely to have unmet mental health needs. A quarter of them identify themselves as disabled, with one in five having special educational needs. Children who identify as Black, Asian or minority ethnic are disproportionately overrepresented" (Lewell-Buck, 2019). It is clearly the most vulnerable children who end up in our prison system. Rather than incarcerating, punishing and ostracising these children, it is time that we adopt a child-centred approach to supporting these young people - one that has healing from violence at its core.

A collaborative campaign by Article 39, the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, Howard League for Penal Reform, INQUEST, Just for Kids Law, the National Association for Youth Justice and Standing Committee for Youth Justice has been leading the fight against child imprisonment. Their aims include, to shift the responsibility for detained children to be moved out of the government department that deals with adult imprisonment to children's social care services, to remove punishment and deterrence as reasons for locking up children and ultimately, to press for the closure of England’s child prisons and raise awareness of the harms of child imprisonment. Find out more about their campaigning work and offer support using the link below.


Article 39. (2019). End Child Imprisonment. [online] Available at: https://article39.org.uk/endchildimprisonment/ [Accessed 1 Jul. 2019].

the Guardian. (2019). Child imprisonment is wrong – let’s end it | Letter. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/nov/08/child-imprisonment-is-wrong-lets-end-it [Accessed 1 Jul. 2019].

TheyWorkForYou. (2019). Child Imprisonment — [Stewart Hosie in the Chair]: 25 Jun 2019: Westminster Hall debates - TheyWorkForYou. [online] Available at: https://www.theyworkforyou.com/whall/?id=2019-06-25a.264.1 [Accessed 1 Jul. 2019].