John spent his 16th birthday the same way he’s spent every day during the UK’s Covid-19 lockdown — alone in a cell for 23 hours, with no visits, no internet and few phone calls. He is one of hundreds of children locked up in UK prisons, the forgotten casualties of the pandemic.
“It gives you a lot of time to think and my thoughts aren’t always positive,” John tells his lawyer, Jude Lanchin, on the rare occasion that she gets access to the prison video link service. “I struggle to sleep,” he adds.
In the UK, teens and children aged 18 and younger are held in what the government refers to as secure children’s homes, secure training centers and young offender institutions. The lawyers CNN spoke to universally refer to such institutions as prisons.
A CNN crew was allowed to observe Lanchin’s call with her client and has changed his name due to UK reporting restrictions for ongoing criminal cases involving children.
I get thirty minutes out a day and then apart from that I’m just in my cell, just thinking,” John says. “There’s a lot of time to think, and it messes with your head a little bit.”
The restrictions have been imposed by the UK government as part of the Covid-19 lockdown. Visits have been temporarily suspended and time outside of prison cells has been severely reduced, as part of broader measures to enforce social distancing in prisons due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to multiple lawyers and experts CNN has spoken to, these restrictions have left children like John in solitary confinement.
The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, known as the Mandela rules, define solitary confinement as 22 hours a day or more without meaningful human contact.
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