"You're hurting me, you're not listening": children speak out about policing and youth justice
Children and young people have spoken out about their experiences of policing and the criminal justice system and called for change.
CRAE's new briefing draws on a survey and in-depth focus group consultations with nearly 1,000 children and young people across England. The research was directed and led by children and young people on CRAE’s See It, Say It, Change It project and revealed distressing details about children’s treatment at the hands of the police and youth justice system.
When asked about their experience of policing:
- the majority (55%) of children and young people who responded to CRAE’s survey felt the police do not have a good relationship with children with 8% saying they felt the police harassed children.
- children reported that the police did not listen to them when they experienced pain whilst being restrained with 15 year old Dwaine saying: “you bend my hand, and I’m telling you excuse me, you’re hurting me, you’re not listening”.
- children described excessive use of force which resulted in serious injuries - including a broken nose in one case. 15 year-old Liam described how “three of them [police officers], they grabbed me and threw me up against the fence. I couldn’t breathe … I had cuts all over my arms, my face, everywhere.”
- children told CRAE about the ”really frightening” threat of violence from police officers carrying Tasers with 17 year old Zahir saying “I just saw the little dot there and… I just went all warm, scared. I thought I’m going to get hurt now, I’m going to get a shock in a minute. They just stunned him [his friend] and he was flopped on the floor.”
Children and young people who had been in youth custody told CRAE about:
- violence being used against them by staff with 17 year-old Lee saying “even when you’re getting restrained or something staff always get cheap punches in”.
- high levels of self-harm in youth custody settings with 11 year-old Ricky describing how he heard “lots of shouting children… and then one of them was crying and one of them was kicking the wall or banging their head on the wall”.
- degrading treatment and lack of dignity with 16 year-old Kesha telling CRAE how in a secure training centre she was required to shower handcuffed, in the presence of male and female security staff with only basic toiletries and no clean clothes provided.
Maria Stephens, Participation Manager at CRAE, said:
"Human rights are vital to ensure children are treated fairly and kept safe if they are caught up in the criminal justice system. Worryingly, testimony from the children and young people we spoke to shows children’s human rights are being discarded when they are needed most.
Children and young people have made clear recommendations about how this should change. Police and youth justice professionals must now listen and work with them to solve the problems in the system.”
In the briefing, children and young people make a number of recommendations for change including:
- Policing and the justice system should respect children’s rights and treat children with dignity. Building on this, CRAE calls for the National Police Chief’s Council strategy for the policing of children and young people to be implemented with corresponding action plans put in place in individual police forces.
- Training on children’s rights must be introduced for all professionals working with children in policing and the justice system. Police need to have specific training on how to communicate sensitively and effectively with children – this should be child or youth-led.
- Violence against children by police and in youth custody must stop immediately. Physical restraint must only be used as a last resort when the child poses an imminent risk to the safety of themselves or others.
- Children in contact with the police and in the youth justice system need to be listened to and their views taken into account. Complaints mechanisms must be strengthened so when problems arise there is immediate action and clear accountability.