MOST criminal defence solicitors are only too aware of the reality behind the chief inspector of prison’s comments on Tuesday that youth detention centres are critically unsafe.

I am increasingly concerned about the frequency with which courts incarcerate young people into these institutions, often excessively, with the reasoning that there is no alternative. Many of those judging and sentencing young people have no idea what they are sending often vulnerable young people into. Most institutions are a disgrace and are like walking into something from a Dickens novel. They are dirty, falling apart, with limited space in which to have a confidential conversation with a client. Crime festers, drugs circulate freely and inmates are forced to fight to protect themselves because there is no one else to help them.

Most of those who end up incarcerated are youngsters who have had an appalling start in life or have simply made the wrong decision in a bad situation, learning hard from the mistake. Locking them into these institution is counterproductive and the start of a vicious circle. They lose control over their lives and their futures, and they lose the freedom to make better decisions.

The scandal is that new sentencing guidelines should have been taken into consideration, but have not.

Recommendations not been implemented to ensure the safety of young people. We need to take responsibility for what is happening in these institutions and better look after young people by showing them the right way.

Caroline Liggins is a criminal defence solicitor at Hodge Jones & Allen