Campaigners are meeting in parliament today to urge the government to drop legislation extending staff powers to restrain children in secure training centres.
The move follows last week’s damning verdict in the inquest of 15-year-old Gareth Myatt who died after being restrained by staff at Rainsbrook secure training centre in 2004.
The inquest jury concluded that Myatt died accidentally, but slammed the Youth Justice Board and Rebound ECD, the private company which manages Rainsbrook for failing to monitor the use of restraint at the centre.
The verdict has intensified the row over legislation to allow STC staff to restrain children to maintain “good order and discipline.” This would extend current powers in STCs to restrain children at risk or harm or escaping, bringing them in line with other establishments including young offender institutions and schools.
Myatt’s verdict followed the inquest of 14-year-old Adam Rickwood at Hassockfield secure training centre, where evidence emerged that children including Adam were restrained for “non-compliance.”
Lawyers for Rickwood questioned the legality of the practice, leading the coroner to call for a review of restraint in secure training centres. In response, the government put forward a statutory instrument to extend staff restraint powers.
Sally Keeble MP said it “beggared belief” the government was going ahead with the legislation – due to come into force on Thursday – despite the inquest verdicts.
Today’s meeting comes ahead of a debate in the House of Lords on July 9 when Liberal Democrat peer Alex Carlile will attempt to annul the legislation. He led a major inquiry into the use of restraint on children in custody last year.
In a paper submitted to the meeting, the YJB said it was “totally untrue” that pain was routinely used in STCs and denied children were being “tortured.” It cited figures showing that restraint was used 2,574 times in STCs between February 2006 and March this year. Of these, 169 restraints involved “distraction” techniques which give children a brief, sharp burst of pain to the nose, thumb or rib.
Ahead of the meeting, Deborah Coles, co-director of campaign group Inquest, claimed privately-run STCs were using restraint on children “frequently” to “avoid” financial penalties they could incur if centres were not “running smoothly” according to their contract obligations with the Youth Justice Board.
“This means that children could be restrained for failing to go to bed, just so staff can show they are keeping order,” she said.
The coroner in the Myatt inquest is raising matters with authorities including the Youth Justice Board to prevent similar deaths occuring.
John Bates, a spokesperson for Rebound ECD, said the management of Rainsbrook had offered their “sincere condolences” to Gareth’s mother Pamela Wilton.
He added: “The three members of staff [involved in the restraint] have been deeply affected by this incident. We shall consider the verdict carefully and learn from the observations made by the jury.”
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