Lockdown has brought with it many challenges for us all, not least restrictions on our freedoms. But for children in custody, this time has been particularly hard, as it has curtailed even the very limited freedoms they once had. Some children in custody have been spending all but 40 minutes of the day locked in their cells during lockdown. As lockdown slowly eases for many of us, and we are encouraged to spend as long as we want outside because of the benefits to our well-being, children in custody as still spending the majority of the day in their cells. In these difficult times, children told us they have found comfort in the feeling that we – those in custody and the community alike- are all in it together. The easing of restrictions on people in the rest of the country will undoubtedly make the restrictions on children in custody more difficult.
Additionally, legislation has recently been passed which allows for the harsh restrictions which children are experiencing, with no visits allowed from family or professionals and little access to education and other activities, to potentially be extended for 6 months longer than any Coronavirus-related restrictions in place in the rest of the country. It is hard to see what justification there could be for these heavy-handed restrictions to be in place for so long for vulnerable children in custody who are already suffering the results of a severely curtailed timetable.
These children are often highly vulnerable and need significant additional support, which is limited by the restrictions in place. Time in custody should be focused on education and rehabilitation. This support is being disrupted during this pandemic with potentially serious consequences for children’s rights, well-being and long-term outcomes.