Campaigners demanded urgent action today following a prisons ombudsman's report into the apparent suicides of three teenagers while in custody.
The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman examined the deaths of 15-year-old Alex Kelly, at Cookham Wood in Kent, 17-year-old Jake Hardy, at Hindley in Wigan, Greater Manchester, and 17-year-old Ryan Clark, at Wetherby in west Yorkshire.
Ombudsman Nigel Newcomen's report found that two of the boys had been bullied and two had refused to take medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder before they died.
Relatives of the third teen also raised concerns he may have been bullied but no evidence was found to back the claims.
The ombudsman said staff should respond more robustly to bullying and ensure that children have access to outside support such as family members when in crisis.
He also found that mental health assessments did not take into account the different ways that children might show distress.
Campaign group Inquest co-director Deborah Coles said the issues the report raised were "depressingly familiar."
She warned there had been 34 deaths of children in prison custody since 1990 and despite promises of change the deaths continue.
Ms Coles said: "An independent, holistic inquiry, where these issues are examined in the context of the entire system of detention for children, is long overdue. It's time to break the cycle of harm and death."
The ombudsman also said that two of the teenagers should have been moved to specialist units at the young offenders institution.
The report found: "The three children were extremely vulnerable but following the court decision to place them in custody there does not seem to have been sufficiently detailed consideration given to the best placement to help manage their vulnerability.
"In two of the cases, when it became clear that the boys were struggling to cope with a normal young offenders institution regime, they were not moved to specialist units within the institutions despite alternatives being available."
And Howard League for Penal Reform chief executive Frances Crook said the boys' deaths could have been avoided if they had received a non-custodial punishment.
She said: "How many more children need to die before we stop putting them in prison and start realising that tackling their complex problems is more important than harsh punishment?"
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