OVER 30 organisations have joined the Alliance for Youth Justice (AYJ) in raising the alarm about deteriorating conditions in the children’s secure estate, and the desperate measures being resorted to by those in charge.

An open letter sent to Damian Hinds, Minister of State for Prisons, Parole and Probation, highlights grave concerns about the appalling and potentially unlawful treatment of children and young people in Young Offender Institutions (YOIs); the proposed rollout of PAVA spray to the children’s secure estate; and the significant increase in the number of young people aged 18 or over being held in the children’s secure estate.

PAVA is Pelargonic Acid Vanillylamide, a synthetic incapacitant, rolled out to staff in the adult male prison estate in England and Wales at the end of 2018.

The letter sets out how ‘Operation Safeguard’, put in place due to capacity failures in the adult estate, has driven a “rapid and significant” increase in the number of young people aged 18 or over being held in the children’s secure estate. The signatories say: “It is clear that the children’s secure estate cannot meet the needs of children and young people. It cannot cope with an increasing population, let alone while also grasping the different considerations needed for over 18s.”

The letter highlights shock and dismay that PAVA spray may be rolled out to staff in the secure estate, and that General Purpose Dogs and ‘flashbangs’ are reportedly being deployed in YOIs. It states this hardening and adultifying of the children’s estate is “totally unjustifiable”.

The letter calls for PAVA spray not to be rolled out; dogs and stun grenades to be banned; and the urgent publication of clear information, evaluation, and plans for the future of the estate.

The letter, co-ordinated by the AYJ, has been signed by over 30 organisations working with and on behalf of children and young adults in the criminal justice system.

* Read the full letter and list of signatories here.

* Source: Alliance for Youth Justice