Who? Laura Janes, legal director at the Howard League for Penal Reform.
Why is she in the news? The High Court has agreed to hear a judicial review brought by the Howard League on behalf of a boy held in prolonged solitary confinement in a London prison.
Thoughts on the case: ‘The chance to put my client’s situation before the High Court is important because the solitary confinement of children in our country is unacceptable. In the 10 years I have been at the Howard League, the child prison population has decreased from 3,000 to 800. Those 800 are some of the most damaged children in society. They have such low self-esteem to start with and isolating them for over 22 hours a day compounds this.
‘I speak to such children on our advice line and I hear them yawning their heads off. That lethargy from confinement, in addition to the punishment of deprivation of liberty, gets me every time.’
Dealing with the media: ‘We need to change how people behave to each other and generate a culture where people respect each other’s legal rights and entitlements. That won’t happen if I threaten legal action, settle cases and tell no one. The media is critical in bringing the law alive for people who ought to know and care about it. Translating law into “human-speak” is a challenge, but worth it.’
Why become a lawyer? ‘I grew up in east London at a time when racism was rife; somebody I knew lost his entire family in a racist petrol bomb attack. I joined Amnesty and soon realised that only the law could enforce change. I became a lawyer to bring about more local change.’
Career high: ‘I worked with a young person – who had really suffered in prison – to get him transferred to hospital, where he was diagnosed with a profound learning disability. He flourished and, last year, the Court of Appeal granted his request to regularise his status as a mental health patient and quash his [indeterminate] sentence.’
Career low: ‘I hate having to regularly manage the expectations of children and young people in prison and encourage them to swallow their own sense of injustice to get by.’