The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Women in the Penal System has announced a one year independent inquiry into girls in the penal system, after discovering that 168,493 girls have been arrested by 37 police forces over the past three years, including 47,602 in 2010 alone.
The aim of the inquiry is to achieve real change in the lives of young girls in need and to bring about a reduction in the number of girls who enter the criminal justice system, says the Howard League for Penal Reform
The Inquiry will be co-chaired by Kate Green MP and Baroness Jean Corston, with Roberta Blackman-Woods MP, Elfyn Llwyd MP, Madeleine Moon MP, Baroness Linklater and Baroness Masham on the steering committee.
The executive committee of the APPG comprises the Bishop of Liverpool, Elfyn Llwyd MP, Kate Green MP, Treasurer Baroness Stern and Secretary Claire Perry MP.
The Inquiry will focus on policy and practice regarding girls and investigate the decisions that route girls away from or into the criminal justice system. It will look at how the police and the courts deal with girls who come into contact with the criminal justice system and the different approaches to working with girls, both nationally and internationally.
The all party group will collate evidence from charities, statutory services such as the police and local authorities, examine national government policy and will hear oral evidence over the coming year.
Baroness Jean Corston said: “I am deeply concerned at the thousands of young girls being arrested by the police each year. This excessive use of arrest puts a huge burden on the police who have to do all the paperwork and ties up valuable time and money dealing with children, some very young, when they could be dealing with burglaries, rapes and serious disorder.
“Being arrested and banged up in a police cell, with all the chaos that characterises a busy police station, is traumatic and should be avoided at all costs. We are in breach of the UN convention of the rights of the child if we continue to arrest and detain so many children unnecessarily.”
Kate Green MP said “Our penal system is not equipped to manage and resolve the complex problems that many girls have often coming from backgrounds where they have experienced violence, abuse and neglect. We have to question whether our current system makes the public safer when girls leave the criminal justice system more angry, afraid and damaged than when they first entered.”
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, the charity that is administering the Inquiry, said “My work with girls in trouble with the law has shown that the vast majority are vulnerable and damaged individuals. The girls that go through the criminal justice system are not dangerous criminals, but often sad victims of circumstance and violence.”
The inquiry is calling today writing to charities and organisations working with girls in a call for written evidence and is also keen to hear from individuals and families who may have personal experiences of the criminal justice system in relation to the treatment of girls.