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Pandemic has ‘significantly aggravated’ problems for children in youth justice system, researchers warn

THE pandemic has “significantly aggravated” problems faced by children in the youth justice system, researchers have warned. 

A new review by the Alliance for Youth Justice (AYJ) says that there has been a lack of understanding and focus on children during the Covid-19 crisis. 

Restrictive regimes were implemented in youth jails and secure training centres in March 2020 to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

These measures saw some children locked in their rooms for up to 23 hours a day, with a ban on visits by family members as well as lawyers and social workers. 

The review stated that the majority of children in penal establishments were subjected to “awful conditions, deprived of education, visits and contact ... amounting to solitary confinement.”

Education activities in young offender institutions were also restricted, as they were in adult prisons. Researchers accused ministers of failing in their policy responses to distinguish between adults and children. 

The review, carried out by the AYJ with the Manchester centre for youth studies at Manchester Metropolitan University, calls for urgent action to prevent more children being dragged through a system that is under “severe strain.”

AYJ director Pippa Goodfellow said: “Issues that are prevalent amongst children in the youth justice system have been significantly aggravated by Covid-19, with disadvantaged and marginalised communities suffering most.

“Children’s exposure to abuse, exploitation and violence have continued or increased, while the capacity of services has been severely impeded. 

“Concerted, co-ordinated action with significant investment will be required to mitigate the negative consequences for children in the youth justice system and to prevent criminalising vulnerable children who have experienced the most devastating harms of the pandemic.”

The Ministry of Justice has been approached for comment. 

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