Report: Mentally Ill Children Being Sentenced to Prison
(01/24/2011)

LONDON — A report issued by The Prison Reform Trust here finds that children with emotional and mental health needs are more likely to go to prison than other young people because the Youth Justice System does not recognize their special needs.

The PRT report expressed concern that children with learning disabilities, mental health and other disorders may not be benefiting from the right to a fair trial due to their conditions and difficulties in understanding the legal system. Additionally, the report found that black children — already overrepresented in juvenile facilities — are being hit hardest.

“This in-depth report shows too many young people are in prison because their needs are not recognized or met,” says Juliet Lyon, PRT director. “There is nothing fair about a system where things are not explained or understood and where youngsters are not properly represented or protected.”

The failure to recognize students with such disabilities violates the spirit of Article Six of the European Convention on Human Rights, the report stated.

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Diz Minnett, speech and language coach at the Association of Youth Offending Team Managers, and advocacy group that promoted the public understanding of youth crimes, predicted that acknowledgement of underlying issues could result in fairer court proceedings for the accused.

“A court faced with a sullen uncommunicative and defensive 17-year-old tends to view the behavior differently once aware that he has been assessed with communication difficulties, cannot understand a lot of the language being used, and is functioning at the level of a child 10 years younger,” Minnett said.

The PRT report went on to find that local authorities and health agencies are not investing in grassroots organizations that might keep youth out of trouble, instead waiting to act until the child has gotten into trouble and is in the justice system.

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