E.U. Rights Commissioner Demands Education not Punishment

STRASBOURG CEDEX, France — The efficacy of the youth justice system in Britain and adult system in France fell under scrutiny this fall following recent reports by the Council of Europe’s human rights watchdog.

Thomas Hammarberg, COE commissioner for human rights, strongly urged British and French officials to overhaul detention policies regarding confinement, punishment and rehabilitation in order to protect the human rights of both youth and adult detainees.

Britain’s juvenile detention system, which includes England, Wales and Scotland, should immediately end all methods of restraint intended to cause pain on children in custody, the report states.

In England and Wales, children are considered accountable for their crimes at age 10 and, in Scotland, at age 8.

Hammarberg urged the system to raise the age of accountability for children to bring it in line with other European countries, which on average consider 14 years to 16 years to be the age they are responsible for their crimes, according to the report.

The report also found the juvenile justice system to be too punitive, relying heavily on methods such as forcible strip search and solitary confinement.

Authorities should consider arrest, detention and use of child custody a last resort and use rehabilitative methods instead to reduce what Hammarberg considered to be high numbers of children in custody in England and Wales, the report states.

Access to education and mental health needs of children should also be improved in an effort to reduce recidivism, according to the report. More than 75 percent of children convicted of being a youth offender re-offend within a year of their release, the report states.

In a written response to the report, British authorities stated that children in custody can be among the most troubled and difficult children in the country and that finding a balance between protecting the public and meeting young offenders’ rights can be a difficult task.

In a separate report, the commissioner censured the French adult justice system for threatening the human rights of inmates with overcrowded conditions, lack of privacy, dilapidated facilities and substandard hygiene.

French authorities should come up with more effective solutions to these problems and find funding for inmates with mental disorders, the report states.

Similar to his findings in the British report, Hammarberg urged that recidivism prevention measures be used in lieu of preventive detention and harsh measures, including solitary confinement.

The suicide rate inside French prisons is also high, the report states. In October, four inmates committed suicide while serving time, bringing the nation’s inmate suicide rate this year to at least 90. Last year, 96 inmates killed themselves, and, in 2005, the suicide rate was 122.

Deportation quotas for irregular immigrants should be re-evaluated as they can lead to the dehumanization of migrants, the report states.

Migrants should not be considered numbers, but contributors to the development of the country who are worthy of humane treatment, according to the report.

The report also called attention to the country’s youth justice system, stating that 3,000 minors are incarcerated each year due to disproportionately harsh penalties.

The government’s policy of imposing harsher sentences on youth as a way of combating crime should be reformed to include prevention, rehabilitation and social integration, the report says.