“End overnight police detention of children,” says children’s rights charity

Children’s rights charity Just for Kids Law is calling for an end to the overnight detention of children by police.

07/03/22

“End overnight police detention of children,” says children’s rights charity

Just for Kids Law is calling for an end to the overnight detention of children by police.

A new report from the charity finds that tens of thousands of children are held overnight in a police cell every year, which it says flies in the face of the Children Act 2004 placing a statutory duty on police and local authorities to have regard to the safety, welfare, and well-being of children.

Campaigners say police cells are an inappropriate place for children to be held, yet large numbers of children continue to spend a night or more in police custody causing them fear, anxiety, and distress.

The report finds that despite an overall decrease in the number of children detained in police custody overnight in recent years (in line with the reduction in child arrests and numbers of first-time entrants to the youth justice system), serious failures to safeguard children are still taking place.

In 2019, at least 21,369 children were detained overnight in police custody either pre- or post-charge, a third of all those arrested. 244 children aged 12 and under were held overnight and 9 children held overnight were just 10 years of age. As only a minority of forces provided data for the youngest children, the actual figure is likely to be higher.

In one case in 2021, a 16-year-old boy was detained for 5 days following a warrant being issued for his arrest. Black children are also disproportionately detained in police custody overnight – making up more than one in five (21.7%) of those detained, with a total of 15% (2,893) from other minority ethnic backgrounds.

“It’s horrible when they keep you in there at night. You don’t know what’s going on, you don’t know what’s going to happen or what to do with yourself. It’s just horrible,” said one 15-year-old looked after child who held overnight in police custody on multiple occasions.

As a result of the findings, campaigners are calling on politicians, police representatives, and youth justice representatives to use detention only as a last resort with a much-reduced time limit to how long a child can be detained in police custody to be set into legislation.

The charity says adequate funding should be made available for the provision of secure accommodation and non-secure local authority accommodation across the country to enable local authorities to meet their duties under both PACE and the Children Act 1989.

The charity is also calling for a review of the data relating to the overnight detention to ensure adequate oversight and scrutiny of any breaches of children’s rights, as well as a review of the College of Policing’s Authorised Professional Practice on arrest and detention to ensure that police officers understand that children should only be detained as a matter of last resort and for the shortest possible time.

Louise King, Director of Policy and Campaigns at Just for Kids Law, said immediate action is needed by all those responsible for safeguarding children and protecting their rights.

“Children who come into contact with the criminal justice system are some of the most vulnerable in society, yet thousands are spending the night in police cells designed to hold adults suspected of criminal activity, leaving children feeling extremely distressed and vulnerable.

“We are particularly concerned that there is also significant racial disproportionality. Nearly 22% of the children held overnight are Black and 15% are from other minority ethnic backgrounds.”

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