The Tories are more Interested in Imprisoning Children, than Offering them a Future – Apsana Begum MP


“This Government would rather pump money into locking people up, in this case children, instead of dealing with systemic social issues that cause trauma and inequality in the first place.”

Apsana Begum MP.

With the #PoliceCrackdownBill returning to the house of commons this week, Apsana Begum MP shows why we must oppose this authoritarian legislation – and expose the attacks on our children through “Secure Schools”.

This week, the #PoliceCrackdownBill returned for its rushed final stages in the Commons.

This is despite the large number of concerned citizens who took to the streets, outside Parliament and around the country, to protest against the authoritarian attack on our civil liberties – particularly the right to protest.

The Bill is chillingly anti-democratic to its core and will exacerbate the discrimination and over-policing of working class and marginalised communities. It will literally criminalise the way of life of those in Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller communities – some of the most persecuted groups across Europe.

This age-old formula of stronger unaccountable police powers and impunity, whilst disempowering our communities should be a thing of the past. Yet, longer and longer sentences, more and more inmates in prisons, less and less transparency and the increasing undermining of human rights, remain the hallmarks of an unjust justice regime.

I oppose the #PoliceCrackdownBill – it knowingly offers the wrong solutions to the wrong questions.

That’s why, in addition to supporting a range of civil liberties interventions, I tabled an amendment that sought to highlight and oppose a less widely discussed measure: secure schools.

These are essentially a form of prison for those of school age, and would replace what are currently known as youth jails. 

Despite the spin and rhetoric, secure schools could herald a huge expansion of the children’s prison programme in the UK – which for years has been campaigned against due to its ineffectiveness and the high levels of abuse that it has created for those incarcerated at such young ages. 

The Bill provides a mechanism allowing for charities, which includes Multi-Academy Trusts, to operate these prisons– which raises all sorts of legal and practical questions in terms of accountability and safety. This could encourage more and more academy chains to apply to be providers as things develop – establishing an unnerving market for this new prison estate, using charities and the third sector as benevolent cover.

It surely is no surprise that Secure Schools have been opposed by many within education and social care – not least, given they hark back to a “penal approach rooted in the past.

The first secure school, Medway, is planned to be opened in an area of Kent that has a significant Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller community. The undertones of this decision are incredibly sinister and worrying – especially given the other measures in the #PoliceCrackdownBill.

The End Child Imprisonment coalition, in a letter encompassing 36 organisations, called for the permanent closure of Medway secure training centre and opposed the secure school. Amongst other reasons, this was in a bid to combat the history of institutional child abuse that has developed within such establishments. 

Our social infrastructure – of welfare, health, education, housing etc. – are failing and holding back too many young people, who, as a result, all too often find themselves trapped in a persistent doomed loop of exclusion.

So many of those who would end up in secure schools, and who are already within equivalent systems, are amongst the most vulnerable in our society, and the choices that are made regarding them at this age could shape their entire lives.

CARE, a Coalition of Anti-Racist Educators and No More Exclusions argue that secure schools are one element of “racial capitalism”, locking up Black children at “vastly disproportionate rates.

It falls upon those in charge of writing and passing laws to make sure that all people are protected – and what is more important than the rights of children and our next generation?

Yet this Government would rather pump money into locking people up, in this case children, instead of dealing with systemic social issues that cause trauma and inequality in the first place.

If we are serious about striving for a more equal and just society, we shouldn’t be just imprisoning children and young people, but looking after them and offering them the hope of a better future.

Apsana Begum is the member of Parliament for Poplar and Limehouse.

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