This is a huge issue. Police cells being used to house children overnight because there is no alternative accommodation.
‘Most forces were unable to provide information about how many under-18s were successfully transferred to council accommodation but in one force – Merseyside – just three out of 73 children were transferred in June and July 2015.’
30 January 2016
- From the sectionEngland
More than 22,000 children, including an eight-year-old, were held overnight in cells in 2014-15, police figures show.
The 22,792 under-18s included one who was held for 15 days.
Criminal justice experts said authorities were breaching their statutory duties by detaining under 18s overnight in adult cells.
But police said there was a “lack of alternative accommodation”, while local authorities said they faced difficulties in finding emergency care.
The figures, which the BBC obtained through Freedom of Information requests to England’s 39 forces, showed that while the number of children detained overnight had fallen, from 41,789 in 2011-12, experts believed it was still too high.
Gloucestershire Police said the youngest child it held in a cell was eight years old.
The law states that, once charged, anyone under 18 should be bailed to their home or transferred to local authority accommodation unless it is impracticable, or the child needs secure accommodation and it is not available.
“In my eight years of representing children, I have never once known a child to be transferred to overnight accommodation,” said Jennifer Twite, a barrister with Just For Kids, a charity that campaigns on behalf of children in the justice system.
“The number of children held overnight is shocking and unacceptable.
“Local authorities are under a legal duty to provide overnight accommodation for these children, many of whom are acutely vulnerable and in great distress.”
Children were held overnight in police custody in 2014/2015, forces said
- 8 The age of the youngest child held
- 380 hours The longest period a child was held
Most forces were unable to provide information about how many under-18s were successfully transferred to council accommodation but in one force – Merseyside – just three out of 73 children were transferred in June and July 2015.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) which independently assesses police forces said custody staff at some forces – including Bedfordshire – had “never known secure accommodation to be made available for children… and had stopped requesting this facility”.
HMIC said: “No police force is doing enough to work with local authorities to get secure accommodation.”
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The police know cells are not a nursery or a school.
“They are not an appropriate place for children to be.
“Police stations are noisy and full of adults – some of whom are drunk and dangerous.
“The cells are often subterranean and really unpleasant places.”