Sharon Hartles is a MA Postgraduate Crime and Justice student with the Open University. She has an interest in crimes of the powerful, including state and state-corporate crime. In an explicit attempt to move beyond criminology, she draws upon a zemiological approach to evidence the social, political and economic context in which crime is produced and interwoven into society via socio-economic inequalities.
As of the 27th June 2019, thirty five children (aged 17 or under) have died in penal custody in England and Wales since the 13th July 1990. This death rate equates to an average of one death every ten months. The social blindness and on the whole social acceptance/denial of this outdated and barbaric form of harm, by the vast majority, underpinned through the punitive desire to punish wrongdoers, must end. There has to be a better way, an alternative form of penance, which must be framed by an overarching consensus to reconcile and restore harm produced within, and by harmful societies.
On the 13th July 1990, Philip Knight became the youngest person to commit suicide in a prison in the United Kingdom. The prison where this tragedy took place was for adult, male prisoners aged 18 or over: Philip Knight was a 15 year old child. Alan Williams, Swansea West MP, (1964 – 2010) declared to the House of Commons, on the 26th July 1990, that Philip had been sent to a Swansea category B/C male prison because “nowhere else could be found for him”. About a week before Philip committed suicide by hanging himself, he had cut his wrists. As a 15 year old child it can be claimed, that Philip lacked the necessary life experiences on which to draw upon, which left him less able to manage suicidal and bleak thoughts, demonstrating why there is a clear need to abolish the imprisonment for children.
Following on from Philip Knight’s death, between 1990 and the 6th October 2002, 24 more children aged between 15 years and 17 years, suffered apparently self-inflicted deaths. With the exception of Chris Greenway, aged 16, who died in 1995 and whose death was categorised as murder/homicide, the victims include: David Dennis, aged 17 (died 30th May 2000), Philip Griffin, aged 17 (died 1st August 2000), Kevin Henson, aged 17 (died 6th September 2000), Anthony Redding, aged 16 (died 15th February 2001), Mark Dade, aged 16 (died 27th July 2001), Kevin Jacobs, aged 16 (died 29th September 2001), Joseph Scholes, aged 16 (died 24th March 2002) and Ian Powell, aged 17 (died 6th October 2002) to detail just eight out of twenty-three deaths.
On the 9th April 2004, Gareth Myatt, a 15 year of child died in prison custody, whilst in Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre near Rugby. Unlike the 24 out of 25 categorised self-inflicted deaths aforementioned, Gareth was the first child to die while being restrained in custody. Gareth was less than five feet tall and weighted six and a half stone (this being the average height and weight for a twelve year old boy). Gareth’s physical stature was clearly that of a young child. However, this did not stop three officers (David Beadnall, David Bailey and Diana Smith) restraining Gareth in the seated double embrace restraint position in an ordeal which lasted for six or seven minutes. During this time Gareth was told by David Beadnall ‘if you can talk then you can breathe’, and ‘you are going to have to shit yourself‘. Gareth died as he was held down in the restraint position from positional asphyxia after choking on his own vomit. Yet, on the 28th June 2007 a jury ruled Gareth’s death to be accidental.
Four months after Gareth Myatt’s death, Adam Rickwood, died on the 8th August 2004, aged 14. To date, Adam is the youngest child to die in custody in England and Wales. His death categorised as self-inflicted. A further 8 children have died since August 2004 including: Gareth Price, aged 16 (died 20th January 2005), Sam Elphick, aged 17 (died 15th September 2005), Liam McManus, aged 15 (died 29th November 2007), Ryan Clark, aged 17 (died 18th April 2011), Jake Hardy, aged 17, (died 24th January 2012), Alex Kelly, aged 15, (died 25th January 2012), Daniel Adewole, aged 16 (died 4th July 2015) and Caden Steward, aged 16, (died 27th June 2019) to catalogue the latest in this series of deaths.
Thirty-five children aged between 14 to 17 years, all boys, have died in prisons over a 29-year period from 1990 to 2019. 31 out of these 35 deaths have been categorised as self-inflicted. This excludes Chris Greenway’s death which was categorised as homicide, Gareth Myatt’s death which was categorised as accidental, Daniel Adewole which was categorised as natural causes and Caden Steward’s which is not believed to be self-inflicted, yet it is not being treated as suspicious. 34 out of these 35 deaths have taken place in Secure Training Centres (STCs for children aged 12 to 17) or Young Offender Institutions (YOIs for children aged 15 to 17), with the exception of Philip Knight whose self-inflicted death took place in an adult male prison. It is ironic that the STCs and YOIs are establishments that the Ministry of Justice commissions from Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service claim to provide ‘specialist’ custodial places for children aged 12 to 17.
The rebranding and relabelling as ‘Secure Training Centres’ and ‘Youth Offender Institutions’ helps to maintain a smoke and mirrors mirage. These are nothing short of childrens prisons. Further labelisation via the categorisation of self-infliction of these children’s deaths does little but detract away from the trauma, harm and abuse that such institutions which incarcerate children like STCs and YOIs perpetuate. There is a huge body of evidence detailing systemic abuse and child maltreatment within STCs and YOIs, delivered at the hands of Serco and G4S custody officers:
- “51 restraint incidents that led to children losing consciousness, struggling to breathe or suffering serious injuries in Medway, Oakhill and Rainsbrook STCs in 2014/15.”
- “1,699 occasions when children in STCs were made to remove all of their clothes and underwear and show their naked bodies to G4S and Serco custody officers in the 21-month period up to December 2012.”
- “768 times the last-resort nose, rib and thumb “distraction” techniques were used in 2004/05. That is, children were inflicted with severe pain routinely and to make them comply with orders.”
The private sectors such as Serco and G4S have increasingly influential workings on the criminal process. Both assume the right to punish on behalf of the government and as such manage and deliver (in)justice services. Fundamentally, the child abuse which takes place in STCs and YOIs is state-supported and state-sanctioned.
This emergence of the marketisation and privatisation of the prison industrial complex has led to the favoured response of imprisoning children because it is a booming business and there is profit to be made in the ‘corrections’ industry. It appears to be the case that as long as operational obligations are met, profit from the operation of the incarceration of children together with the inhumane practices implemented are in the main hidden away from the public. Interestingly, up until July 2016, all of the Secure Training Centres were run by private companies. This helps to explain why even with all the evidence detailing why we should abolish imprisonment for children, record numbers of children in England and Wales continue to be incarcerated to sustain capitalist profit.
Even though the UK Government, in December 2016, admitted that prisons cannot be made fit for children, children continue to be detained in STCs and YOIs (children’s prisons) which are operating at maximum capacity. Although the government announced two and a half years ago that it would phase out child’s prisons, at a debate held in Parliament on the 25th June 2019 (two days before Caden Steward’s death) Edward Argar, the Minister of Justice refused to give a timetable for the closure of child prisons. To add fuel to the fire, Edward Argar stated “that youth secure estate “requires real reform” but that the system needs to retain custody as an option.” However, the notion of reformism in face of its successive failures is paradoxically non-reformist reform. No more reform of reform or ‘old wine in new bottles’.
200 years of reform have led us to a time where on the 8th August 2004, Steve Hodgson a so-called ‘care’ officer, ‘fearing’ he was about to be bitten, by Adam Rickwood, a 14 year old child, in plain speaking, gave a sharp blow to Adam’s nose with two fingers under the nostrils, inflicting a nose bleed, which bled for one hour. At the time Steve Hodgson, acted on ‘instinct’, whilst Adam was being lifted by four care officers to be placed in his room. Although the way he was carried and the use of a blow to his nose – a “distraction technique” – were “unlawful”, there were no charges of assault brought against the care officers.
As Adam Rickwood expressed in his final words of desperation, left in his suicide note on the 8th August 2004 – “What right have they got to hit a child?” To their shame, the Ministry of Justice, backed by the Youth Justice Board, requested the continued use of painful restraint methods for non-compliance to be formalised as part of STC rules. The Secure Training Centre (Amendment) Rules came into force on the 6th July 2007, without parliamentary debate. These ‘rules’ widen the scope for restraint/force to be used against children all of which is permitted under the guise of ensuring “good order and discipline”. The Court of Appeal ruled that the use of painful restraints was an infringement of children’s fundamental human rights. In addition, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, declared that incarceration should be used as a last resort. Even with all that said, the rights of children in detention are still not enforced and the excessive use of restraint/pain-inducing techniques over de-escalation strategies are vehemently favoured as the first response.
The government is clearly failing to protect children, if this were not bad enough, it is actively facilitating the harm of children and blatantly disregarding children’s rights to be protected from violence. When the state, whose role it is to protect, is the perpetrator of harm, who can we turn to? How many more children must die? How many more lessons will be learnt? The time for lesson-learning has passed. The imprisonment of children must end. Now is the time to mobilise, take action and support the End Child Imprisonment campaign launched on the 22nd November 2018 by organisations including: Article 39, the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, the Howard League for Penal Reform, INQUEST, Just for Kids Law and the National Association for Youth Justice.
Originally posted on: sharonhartles.weebly.com
Sharon Hartles, MA Postgraduate Crime and Justice student with the Open University
Images: courtesy of the author