Welcome to my blog

I thought this would be a great way to tell everyone about the many interesting things that I do in my professional life as a researcher, writer and educator. At the moment, my interest is mainly focused on policing and more specifically on police custody i.e. where people are taken on arrest whilst a decision is reached about charge. Watch this space for updates on my whirlwind academic life.

About Me

My photo
Layla Skinns is a Senior Lecturer in criminology in the Centre for Criminological Research at the School of Law, University of Sheffield. Before joining the Centre for Criminological Research, Layla worked at the University of Cambridge, where she was the Adrian Socio-Legal Research Fellow at Darwin College and a Teaching Associate on the MSt. in Applied Criminology for senior police, prison and probation staff. Whilst working as a Research Fellow at Darwin College, she co-organised the prestigious Darwin College Lecture Series on the theme of risk. Her qualifications are: MA (Hons) Sociology and Psychology, University of Edinburgh, 2000; MPhil Criminological Research, University of Cambridge, 2001 and PhD Criminology, University of Cambridge, 2005

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Overnight detention of children in police cells - Interviews with BBC Radio Sheffield

Hear me being interviewed on BBC Radio Sheffield on 13 December 2011. First, by Toby Foster on the breakfast show, along with Andrew Nielsen from the Howard League:

Radio Interview 1 by Layla Skinns

And later by Rony Robinson:

Radio Interview 2 by Layla Skinns

Overnight detention of children in police cells - report out today

I am extremely delighted to say that the report I have researched and written for the Howard League has been published today. It uses a range of different data sources to draw attention to an extremely important issue, namely, the overnight detention of children. In around half the police services in England and Wales there were 53,000 overnight detentions in 2008 and 2009 of children aged between 10 and 16 years. The reasons for this are complex, but a key reason seems to be a break-down in the referral process between the police and local authority when children are charged and their bail is refused. The report also highlights improvements that could be made for children at risk overnight detention, such as greater use of police bail or the use of emergency foster care.

A link to the summary report can be found on the front page of the Howard League's website. The news release issued by the Howard League can be found here:

News Release

Howard League calls to ban overnight police custody for children under 14

With tens of thousands of children aged under 16 being detained overnight in police cells the majority of whom are innocent of any crime, the Howard League for Penal Reform has called for a ban on overnight police detention of under 14s, calling it a ‘dangerous and frightening practice that does more harm than good’. The charity hopes to spare least 11,500 children between the age of 10 to 13 the trauma of being detained overnight in a police cell every year.

According to figures released today in a report published by the Howard League on the overnight detention of children in police cells, at least 53,000 children aged under 16 were detained overnight in just over half the country’s police cells in 2008 and 2009. The report also recommends raising the age of criminal responsibility in line with European standards of 14 years. This would stem the flow of children into police custody.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform said, "I was horrified to discover how prevalent the practice of holding young children in police cells for one or even several nights across the country.   The figures from the report are still an underestimation as only half of police forces responded to our FOI request.  

What children need is somewhere safe, not somewhere secure. From conversations we have had with the police it seems that some children are being held in police cells for child protection reasons, for example when a child is found out alone at night. The Howard League is warning that this will increase as local authorities face cuts to children's services. If parents can’t be relied upon to provide a safe place for these children, it is up to the local authority.  A police cell is not an appropriate place for children, and this commonplace, dangerous and frightening practice does more harm than good.”

Dr Layla Skinns from the University of Sheffield, who researched and wrote the report for the Howard League, is concerned about the complexity of the legislation affecting the overnight detention of children and more importantly by its effects on children. She said:  

“There appears to be a break-down in the referral process between police custody and local authority accommodation. Local authority accommodation does not appear to be being provided because there isn’t the availability or because requests for it are not being made in the first place. Spending the night in a police cell is likely to be a frightening and intimidating experience for children who will be placed in the same environment as adults. This needs to change. Other options need to be explored, such as greater use of police bail or emergency foster care. And there needs to be less complexity in the legislation and greater accountability when the referral process breaks down.”

In the report she has also drawn attention to the legal anomaly which means that 17 year olds are treated as adults in police custody despite being regarded as children in other parts of the criminal justice system. This means that they enter the system as adults, but if they end up in court will be tried as children.

The report also reveals that police training on the treatment and overnight detention of children is limited so that police are uncertain about their powers and responsibilities, sometimes detaining a child overnight when other options could provide the place of safety that they need. The charity contends that laws designed to safeguard children should be applied appropriately by the police or children will be put at risk.

The Howard League believes many children are being arrested and detained unnecessarily.  At least a quarter of a million children were arrested last year – including 22,135 aged 10 to 13 – but only 81,500 were sentenced by a court and only 4,200 were sentenced to custody.

Frances Crook added, "This suggests that for two thirds of children who are put through the trauma and indignity of an arrest and detention in a police station, it was unnecessary."

Of the 53,000 children detained overnight in 2008 and 2009:

·       10,845 were girls (21%).

·       10,050 were black and minority ethnic children (20%)

·       Four were under the age of 10, which is the age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales

Further information

Sophie Willett

020 7241 7866        0755 334 5522

Please find a copy of the summary of the report Overnight detention of children in police cells (LINKS TO WEBSITE)

ISDN line number 020 7923 4196

Dr Layla Skinns is a Lecturer in Criminology at the Centre for Criminological Research, School of Law, University of Sheffield. She has conducted a wide array of research on subjects such as crime prevention, multi-agency criminal justice partnerships, drug users and the criminal justice system, restorative justice and policing. She has recently published, ‘Police custody: Governance, legitimacy and reform in the criminal justice process’ (Routledge, 2011).