The CEO of Britain’s leading penal reform charity, Frances Crook OBE, called for radical changes to children’s prisons at this year’s National Youth Justice Conference.
Frances Crook was a keynote speaker at the conference, which is the biggest event of the year for the Scottish youth justice sector. Organised by the Centre for Youth & Criminal Justice (CYCJ), the Scottish Government and the National Youth Justice Advisory Group (NYJAG), it took place in Dundee on June 15 and 16.
One of the most influential voices in criminal justice, Frances Crook has instigated numerous research programmes and campaigns to raise public awareness about suicides in prison, the over-use of custody and poor conditions in prison, young people in trouble, and mothers in prison.
She spoke passionately about the appalling conditions of youth offender institutions in England and Wales and why prison is never an appropriate place for a child. “Teenagers test boundaries and always will, it’s up to us as adults to respond and deal with this appropriately,” Frances told the audience. “We’ve got to recognise the criminal justice system is a sign of failure – we want to prevent that from happening, from things getting to that point.”
Frances was impressed with Scotland’s youth justice system. “Youth courts and a welfare based approach is something we can learn from Scotland…I came here to learn from you!”
Annabelle Ewing, Scottish Minister for Community Safety & Legal Affairs, opened the conference. She thanked delegates for their ongoing work in youth justice. “The philosophy of the Kilbrandon Report has not changed,” said the Minister. “We face big challenges but can meet them working together in a collaborative space.”
The conference was chaired by Norma Corlette, CEO of Staf Scotland, David Harvie, Crown Agent with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Services, and young people, Michelle Rice and Halim Noor, who both gave emotional and inspiring accounts of what it’s really like to be a young person in the justice system.
The conference also welcomed Max Rutherford of the England based Barrow Cadbury Trust, who presented on the Trust’s Transition to Adulthood (T2A) programme. Arlene Stuart of the Scottish Government spoke on creating a new model for community justice, and Sheriff Alistair Duff, Director of Judicial Institute, offered an insight into the training that judges are receiving to help them support young people in the court room.
Professor William Lindsay, of Danshell Healthcare, and Jennifer van der Zwet gave a father-daughter talk on young people with learning disabilities involved in sexually harmful behaviour. Video footage of young people talking about their care experiences was shown by the Voices project, created to increase confidence and the skills of care experienced young people, and to instigate the changes to help them stay in care longer
Delegates enjoyed a variety of workshops on subjects including the Named Person pilot, victim support, getting it right for girls and young women and Recorded Police Warnings. A musical twilight session delivered by the KIN project, an arts collective working with 16-25 year olds affected by familial imprisonment, was a powerful conclusion to the first day of the conference.
CYCJ’s Director Claire Lightowler said:
“This year’s conference was undoubtedly a big success. We were delighted to welcome such accomplished speakers and presenters, who all reflected extremely well the day’s theme of youth justice in practice. It was particularly good to have the input from our young people, who reminded us what the conference is about – getting it right for this population. We hope that delegates will take what they have learnt and feel inspired to put this into practice.”