Minors in prison: ‘Anyone’s child can end up in a situation like this’

The recent incident involving a 13-year-old girl detained in Schrassig prison has caused a stir, with Ombudsman Claudia Monti expressing her concern about the situation, stating “this is completely unacceptable.”

The incident occurred on Sunday in Diekirch when the young girl injured another minor with a broken glass bottle, and the distressing event was recorded and shared on social media.

Upon apprehension by the police, the girl was brought before a juvenile court judge who initially intended to place her in the Dreiborn Security Unit (UniSec). However, due to unexpected complications, this option was unavailable.

Gilles Dahmen, Senior Adviser at the Ministry of Education, Children and Youth, explained that 11 out of the 12 rooms at UniSec were already occupied, and the last one was undergoing renovations. In an interview with our colleagues from RTL Télé, Ombudsman Claudia Monti confirmed that one of the rooms was deemed unsafe due to damage.

As a result, the authorities decided to temporarily place the minor in the adult prison in Schrassig.

To ensure her safety, she was placed in an ordinary cell within the women’s section, with strict measures to prevent any contact with adult inmates. Following her overnight stay in Schrassig, an opportunity arose for the teenager to move to UniSec in Dreiborn, as a place became available as planned. Monti clarified that it had been known for a long time that a place would become available at UniSec that day. “No one was released from UniSec to make room for this girl,” she stressed, debunking rumours of this nature that had started to spread.

In Luxembourg, it is still legally permitted to place minors in adult prisons. However, forthcoming laws on youth protection and the introduction of juvenile criminal law are set to bring significant changes to this system.

Dahmen believes that these legal reforms will lead to reduced overcrowding at UniSec: “If these two things are properly separated, it will be much clearer who goes to UniSec and who does not. Then the cells won’t fill up so quickly.”

There are also plans to expand UniSec. However, Dahmen emphasises that merely expanding the closed unit is not enough. He points out that increasing the capacity may inadvertently lead to more incarcerations, an observation supported by similar trends seen in adult prisons.

The Ombudsman advocates for more comprehensive work with minors, stressing the need for effective supervision that facilitates their reintegration into society. Monti expressed shock over public statements expressing relief at the girl’s imprisonment and calls for her return to her country. “After all, she’s a child and people don’t know the context. Anyone’s child can end up in a situation like this,” Monti stressed.

A worrying trend

The Ministry of Education has expressed concern over the prevailing issue of violence among young people, considering it a distressing phenomenon that demands attention. Of particular worry is the rampant dissemination of such offenses through social networks, which is difficult to control. Dahmen noted that it is “almost impossible” for educators to act against it online. Monti believes that there should be a greater focus on the root causes behind such behaviour. She notes that simply placing teenagers into care and separating them from their families may not always be the most effective solution.

The Ombudsman emphasises the necessity of fostering greater collaboration with families when minors are placed in care. The problems often stem from familial or peer influences, making it imperative to identify and address the underlying issues proactively, rather than solely intervening after the fact.

Such practices are also detrimental to Luxembourg’s international reputation, with Monti highlighting that incarcerating children and adolescents is inconsistent with human rights standards.

Neither the Ombudsman nor the adviser to the Ministry of Education were able to say when the aforementioned concrete changes, such as the implementation of the new laws or the reorganisation of UniSec, will come into effect.

Full report by RTL Télé (in Luxembourgish)

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