Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Young people victims of an uncaring state

The British establishment, the state and its institutions, the media – none of them really give a damn about young people. And if they say otherwise, they’re lying. That’s the conclusion not only from the Jimmy Savile scandal but an investigation into the deaths of children and young people in prison too.

If the BBC had really been concerned about Savile’s predatory behaviour on and off their premises, they would have acted. But Savile was made into a household name by the BBC and they weren’t going to give that up. So while Savile’s abuse of young children was the talk of Fleet Street, inaction was the word. It was a case of the BBC will fix it.

The same goes for the police and the tabloid press. Clearly, the victims were disbelieved from the off. It makes you wonder whether Savile was part of a much larger ring of predators, including establishment figures, who took advantage of vulnerable children.

Virtually all of Savile’s victims are alive. Which is more than you can say about
Joseph Scholes, a 16-year-old boy who killed himself at Stoke Heath Young Offender Institution in 2002. His mother Yvonne Bailey says her son “died in fear and distress hanging from the window bars of his squalid cell in a children’s prison”.

There were widespread calls made for a public inquiry following his death. That inquiry never took place and since Joseph, nine children and 191 young people aged 24 and under have died in prison or, in the case of two of the children, imprisoned in a secure training centre.

A new report by INQUEST and the Prison Reform Trust says that the inquests and investigations into deaths between 2003 and 2010 reveal that they were often very vulnerable and that none received the level of support and protection they needed. Or deserved, one could add. Fatally Flawed: Has the state learned lessons from the deaths of children and young people in prison? says:

“Often overlooked and neglected in a regime that does not differentiate between young adults and adults, there is little institutional understanding of, or attention to, their specific needs.”  It found that the children and young people who died:

  • were some of the most disadvantaged in society and had experienced problems with mental health, self-harm, alcohol and/or drugs;
  • had significant interaction with community agencies before entering prison yet in many cases there were failures in communication and information exchange between prisons and those agencies;
  • despite their vulnerability, they had not been diverted out of the criminal justice system at an early stage and had ended up remanded or sentenced to prison;
  • were placed in prisons with unsafe environments and cells;
  • experienced poor medical care and limited access to therapeutic services in prison;
  • had been exposed to bullying and treatment such as segregation and restraint;
  • were failed by the systems set up to safeguard them from harm.

“Our findings indicate there have been failures in how the state treats children and young
people in conflict with the law and that the learning and recommendations from inquests
and investigations into previous deaths have not been properly implemented.”  

Lest anyone forgets, the BBC is part of the establishment too. Its so-called independence from the state is more fictional than real. The BBC’s one-sided coverage, from the struggles of Palestinians to strikes and protest actions at home, is self-evident.

There is a stench of decay throughout Britain’s dominant institutions, which the right wing will take advantage of. Tories will use the Savile saga to raise the question of ending state subsidies for the BBC through the licence fee and open up the corporation to commercial challenges from the likes of Murdoch. And we all know how honest, transparent and objective his news empire is.

A thorough-going democratic transformation is absolutely essential to halt a descent into a deeper authoritarian-corporate rule. That’s why a number of groups are backing the November 17 assembly with the aim of developing a new, rights-based, people’s constitution.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

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