Transform Justice is a national charity working for a fair, humane, open and effective justice system. In a recently launched podcast series the Director, Penelope Gibbs, and Rob Allen, a researcher and consultant on criminal justice and prisons, talk to people about topical criminal justice issues. In the second podcast, they are joined by Dr Vicky Kemp, University of Nottingham, and Mel Stooks, a defence lawyer with GT Stewart, talking about children’s experiences in police cells. Vicky and Mel provide several examples of where children’s rights in police custody are currently being undermined, which is often because the police are unable to call on the help and support of other agencies at short notice. This can lead to children being arrested and detained for relatively minor offences and, with no other agency to turn to, custody can be a convenient and safe way to cope with them.
There is also little difference in the way that the police are required to deal with children when compared to adults, although there is a mandatory requirement for an appropriate adult to be involved when dealing with under 18-year-olds. With long delays in police custody, however, both the appropriate adult and, if they have asked for legal advice, the child’s lawyer, wait until the police are ready to conduct the interview before arriving in custody. In Vicky’s study, this was over nine hours on average following a child’s detention, during which time they have no one to turn to in order to find out what is happening, or to help them in exercising their legal rights.
It was while waiting in a cell for many hours, with little or no distractions, not even a watch to tell the time, that most children said was the most difficult thing to cope with in police custody. With the isolation and boredom, and not knowing what was happening, this was a traumatic event for many children but one that they accepted as part of their punishment. This is wrong because, at this early stage, they have not admitted, or been convicted, of having committed an offence. With a presumption of innocence for all suspects until proven guilty, children should not be punished in this way.
The police can hold all suspects for 24-hours and in helping to differentiate between adult and child suspects, Vicky suggests there should be a shorter clock of 12 hours for children. In addition, with extra funding for Social Services and Children’s Services, she would like to see the police being able to call on other agencies for early help and support. This is particularly important when many children come to the attention of the police because of difficulties in their lives and, at this early stage, it would help to access support and reduce the number of children being held in police cells and also help in reducing offending.
You can listed to the podcast on Spotify
Posted on Friday 22nd July 2022