Proposals to extend staff powers to restrain young offenders in secure training centres could breach international law and Youth Justice Board guidance, campaigners have warned.
The Ministry of Justice has published plans to allow staff to use physical restraint to enforce “good order and discipline” in STCs, bringing them in line with young offender institutions and non-secure settings including schools. Currently, STC rules state that restraint can only be used to prevent harm to detainees or prevent escape and damage to property.
The move came after the coroner in the inquest of 14-year-old Adam Rickwood called for an urgent review of restraint on young offenders.
The inquest into Adam’s death at Hassockfield STC in 2004, which concluded a fortnight ago, found he had been restrained by staff for refusing to go to his room. The jury also heard that children were regularly restrained for non-compliance, although Rickwood’s legal representatives expressed frustration that there was no discussion on the legality of the practice.
Deborah Coles, co-director of charity Inquest, said: “The big issue that came out of the inquest was that staff were restraining children quite regularly for non-compliance. I am appalled by the fact that the government’s response to this evidence will be to strengthen restraint powers rather than question why they are being used.”
Lord Carlile, president of the Howard League for Penal Reform, and who last year led a major inquiry into restraint on children in custody, has written to justice secretary Lord Falconer warning a change to the STC rules could contravene international law and the use of restraint “may amount to torture”.
Jon Fayle, former head of policy at the Youth Justice Board, called the timing of the ministry’s announcement “suspicious” and suggested that the government was attempting to “legislate retrospectively” to cover up for the failings highlighted in the Rickwood inquest.
He also raised concerns that the legislation breached the YJB’s behaviour management code of practice for secure establishments.
“This clearly states that restraint should not simply be used to procure compliance with a staff instruction,” he said.
Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, called the legislation a “retrograde step” that effectively sanctioned “institutional child abuse,” adding:
”There must be more humane and effective ways to respond to troubled young people.”
The proposed legislation tabled last week will become law in the four privately-run secure training centres by the end of next month unless there is a motion passed in objection in parliament.
Baroness Vivian Stern, a penal reform campaigner, said there would be “substantial” opposition to the proposal.
The inquest into the death of 15-year-old Gareth Myatt, who died after being restrained by staff at Rainsbrook secure training centre in 2004, is due to conclude next week.