Stop Police from Jailing Mentally Ill Children

Target: Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt

Goal: Outlaw the detainment of mentally ill children in jail cells.

In 2011, police in England and Wales detained 347 mentally ill children in jail cells. The Mental Health Act allows for police to take anyone that they suspect of being mentally ill to a safe place, most often a hospital or child care home; however, a jail cell is also considered an acceptable safe place for the care or control of the mentally ill. Children as young as 11 have been detained in jail cells, some for over 24 hours, while police try and figure out where to place them. Sign this petition and tell the Department for Health that detaining mentally ill children in jail cells is not an acceptable treatment of the mentally ill.

The BBC reports that Lucie Russell, campaign director for the mental health charity, Young Minds, states that ‘putting [mentally ill children] in police cells is really only going to make them worse – it will exacerbate feelings of paranoia, delusions and extreme fear and distress.’ Those 347 children detained had not necessarily even committed a crime. While it is understood that resources are tight and sometimes police are unable to bring these children to a hospital or mental health facility, they should not be detained in jail cells for lack of a better option. If police pick up a young child whom they suspect of being mentally ill and cannot reasonably place them in a hospital, then they should spare an office to stay with the child in a lounge or sitting area.

When criminals are locked in a jail cell, they are meant to feel trapped, with no escape, and are forced to sit alone with their thoughts to reflect upon their crimes. When mentally ill children are taken by police and then left alone in a jail cell when they may or may not understand what it happening, it is nearly impossible to imagine the fear and the horror that they must feel. To do this to any individual who has not committed a crime is cruel – and to do this to a child as young as 11 who is suspected to suffer from a mental illness is inexcusable.

Sign this petition and demand that the Department for Health amend the Mental Health Act to state that detaining mentally ill children in jail cells is unacceptable and require that a more suitable safe place be found for them.



Dear Jeremy Hunt,

To detain mentally ill children in jail cells is inexcusable. How can it be a legal policy to subject a mentally ill person to a locked jail cell for up to 72 hours before a more acceptable place is found for him or her? Please amend the Mental Health Act to state that detaining mentally ill children in jail cells is unacceptable and should be considered cruel and unusual punishment.

By detaining mentally ill children in jail cells you are essentially treating those who are mentally ill as criminals and are sending a message that they are a danger to the public and must be removed and contained. Some of the 347 detainees held in 2011 had not even committed crimes.

By amending the Mental Health Act to specifically state that jail cells are not considered acceptable safe places for non-violent mentally ill children, you can help to change a dangerous and misleading stigma that implies that mentally ill people are dangerous and unsightly and should be removed from the public eye. Please amend the Mental Health Act and no longer allow the jailing of mentally ill children.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: my_southborough via Flickr

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One Comment

  1. Prisons are a big business, and detention like this just sets up young offenders for a lifetime of incarceration. They most often the victims of adverse circumstances and need an opportunity to lead productive lives. The present system just perpetuates itself.

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