New report says costly tagging programme sets children up to fail

By agency reporter
September 30, 2014

Children who have been in trouble with the law are being put on electronic tags, given curfews and then sent back to prison because of failures in the system meant to support them, a new report claims today.

Research by the Howard League for Penal Reform shows how almost 1,000 children were put under 'intensive supervision and surveillance' (ISS) last year after being released from prison at the midpoint of a Detention and Training Order (DTO).

Although the measure may be intended to help change lives, the reality is that ISS conditions can be so lengthy and onerous that children find it almost impossible to comply. This means that they can be sent back to prison.

The Howard League’s report, They couldn’t do it to a grown-up: Tagging children without due process, finds that ISS breaches may account for a "significant proportion" of the child prison population.

The charity has represented children who have experienced excessive punishment arising from the inappropriate use of ISS programmes.

It is calling on the government to end the use of midpoint ISS, arguing that the sanction creates injustice and is too costly. The Ministry of Justice spent £1.4m on private security companies tagging children on DTOs in 2010-11.

ISS, which can only be imposed on children, involves 25 hours of specified activities a week, electronic monitoring and a curfew.

Although the responsibility for authorising ISS at the midpoint of a child’s DTO lies with the Justice Secretary, the Howard League has found that the decision is effectively taken at a local level, based on the recommendations of Youth Offending Teams.

The report reveals that children are victim to a postcode lottery. While 26 local authorities tagged 10 or more children last year, a further 26 had no children released at the midpoint on ISS. There is no discernible pattern to account for this variation.

The report also shows how the inappropriate use of ISS programmes has led to children being punished up to four times for one offence.

Some children were placed on ISS when they had already failed the same programme as part of a community sentence. In their eyes, a further ISS on release from prison was a third punishment for the original offence. A number have unsurprisingly failed to comply with the conditions of their ISS on release and been returned to prison, resulting in a fourth punishment for the original offence.

Data from the Ministry of Justice suggests that between 30 per cent and 50 per cent of children on ISS programmes are breached, with more than half of those breaches resulting in custody.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This is part of a confused criminal justice system that muddles punishment with welfare for children. It is setting children up to fail. We are punishing children repeatedly over several years for a single offence and this cannot be fair.

“Some youth offending teams are applying curfews and tags on children in a mistaken belief that this somehow helps them, whereas the truth is that it is a fast track back to jail. We think it could account for hundreds of children ending up in prison each year, not for what they have done or for public safety, but because they go stir crazy on their second or third curfew and tag for an offence committed months or even years ago.

“The only people profiting from this practice are the private security companies supplying the tags.”

* Read the report: They couldn’t do it to a grown-up: Tagging children without due process

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