“One member of staff grabbed my neck and then others pushed me to the ground and held me there telling me to calm down. While I was on the floor a male member of staff was holding my head almost between his knees. I have been sexually abused in the past so you can imagine how that made me feel. I was terrified.”
The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on behaviour management and restraint of children in custody, published today (Wednesday 18 November 2015).
The report focuses on the introduction of a new system of managing physical restraint, known as ‘minimising and managing physical restraint’ (MMPR), in child custody. The new approach was adopted following the death of two boys in secure training centres in 2004.
Although the inspection report concludes that MMPR is an improvement on what went before, it adds that the new system will not be rolled out fully until July 2016 – a year behind schedule – because of staffing shortages and the decommissioning of beds in young offender institutions and secure training centres.
Other concerns raised in the report include:
- In almost half of MMPR incidents reviewed by inspectors, children ended up on the floor. The new system does not allow staff to take children to the floor intentionally during a restraint because of the medical risks this poses.
- The use of pain should be a last resort, but inspectors found that “pain-inducing techniques were used frequently” in young offender institutions. In one incident, pain had been used on a boy who had just attended an appointment to determine whether he was at risk of injuring himself. The boy had a shoelace in his hand, but staff did not give him any time to give it up.
- Several children told inspectors that staff had put an arm around their neck, which did not relate to the approved MMPR guidance about applying a head hold.
- Children frequently reported to inspectors that they struggled to breathe during a restraint.
- Health staff did not always attend after a child had been restrained. One member of health staff told inspectors: “We will examine the young person depending on their mood. We are guided by officers about this and we may just speak to them through their door. If they are pacing around their room we will assess them through their door. Well at least we know they are still breathing.”
- Reviewing CCTV footage, inspectors found examples of officers ‘squaring up’ to children in the lead-up to a restraint. They reported that, in one incident, an officer was “seen to clench his fist and appeared to be prepared to strike the child on two occasions. In the records he argued that it was for his personal safety, but as two officers were holding the child’s arms his actions and account were clearly not justified.”
- A girl, who had been restrained, told inspectors: “One member of staff grabbed my neck and then others pushed me to the ground and held me there telling me to calm down. While I was on the floor a male member of staff was holding my head almost between his knees. I have been sexually abused in the past so you can imagine how that made me feel. I was terrified.”
The report’s findings chime with complaints made by children who call the Howard League’s legal helpline to seek advice.
In the last six months, the Howard League’s legal team has received reports of children being slapped, having their hair pulled and being removed from their beds and restrained while not fully clothed. Some children have reported being restrained in areas that are not covered by CCTV cameras or body-worn cameras.
Many of the incidents that the Howard League are alerted to involve children being restrained for not doing as they are told.
Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “It is now more than a decade since the tragic deaths of Adam Rickwood and Gareth Myatt in custody and countless official meetings and documents and plans have attempted to address the use of force on children behind bars.
“Let us be clear: inflicting violence on troubled children in prison is the sign of a system that is failing those children. The fact that pain-inducing techniques are still frequently used in attempts to manage behaviour is a damning indictment of youth justice in this country.
“The current youth justice review commissioned by Michael Gove could not come at a better time. We can do much, much better for these children.”