Stop Holding Mentally Ill Children in Jail Cells


Target: Jeremy Hunt, United Kingdom, Secretary of State for Health

Goal: Improve mental health care for children.

Last year, over 200 mentally ill children were kept in police custody instead of hospitals during mental health crises. All of them under 18 and some as young as 12, the children were kept in police cells as there was no room in a proper medical facility. While none of these children posed a threat to the public, some were kept isolated for more than two days and left in handcuffs for extended periods of time.

Under England’s Mental Health Act, police can keep children at risk of suicide or self-harm in custody for up to 72 hours if no place is available in a psychiatric unit or hospital. A 14-year-old was held for 36 hours in Lincolnshire, while in Hampshire a 17-year-old-girl was held for 64 hours. These children are left without a means of contacting their parents or doctors and are kept alongside drunks and criminals.

Putting mentally ill children in a police cell rather than getting them medical help leaves them afraid, isolated, and vulnerable to further mental breakdown. This issue, however, is not the fault of police or lawmakers who, ultimately, want to ensure the safety of children. In order to solve the issue, more hospital wings and care facilities must be built to cater to the needs of mentally ill children.

Particularly for children, mental health issues can cause extreme confusion, panic, and trauma. It is imperative that they receive psychiatric help and any necessary medication as soon as possible, rather than seclusion which can worsen their conditions. Sign the petition below to demand that England immediately increase care capabilities for mentally ill children.


Dear Mr. Jeremy Hunt,

Over 200 children suffering mental health crises were held in jail cells in 2014. Some as young as 12, they were kept in police custody when all of the country’s psychiatric wards and mental health facilities were full in order to keep them from self-harm or committing suicide. The children were kept for up to three days at a time in cells next to drunks where they were isolated, handcuffed for extended periods of time, and unable to speak to their parents.

While it is important to keep children from self-harm during a mental health crisis, it is also important that they receive adequate care and medication by a mental health professional. It has become apparent that English health facilities lack the capacity to properly meet the demand for youth health care. We, the undersigned, demand that England stop the detention of mentally ill children in jails by ensuring that the capacity of mental health facilities is increased.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Zaid Hamid via Public Domain

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150 Signatures

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