The debate: when should restraint be used

Lord Carlile, president, Howard League for Penal Reform (pictured right)

“Physical restraint should be available only where it is necessary and when no alternative method is available to prevent escape, injury or serious damage to property by the person restrained or another. But in terms of exactly how children should be restrained, the review announced by the government must examine the techniques currently used and seek expert opinion. There are serious concerns about medical safety that need to be addressed.

“The original STC Rules 1998 were clear that restraint should only be used in the circumstances I mention above, or when a child is inciting another to any of those actions.

“Using restraint to secure compliance was not covered by the rules, and yet even the briefest look at the figures for restraint usage – more than 3,000 times in the space of a year on some 240 children – suggests that, if the rules were being adhered to, then the number of restraint incidents should be considerably fewer.

“The use of restraint to secure compliance came up in the inquests of both Adam Rickwood and Gareth Myatt. Yet rather than challenge the failure of the STCs to abide by their own rules, the Youth Justice Board sought the rule change so that STC staff can continue restraining children to secure compliance. As I said in the debate in the House of Lords last month, this new ultra-vague condition of ensuring ‘good order and discipline’ will place the use of physical restraint on the menu of first choices available in any STC whenever there is a sign of trouble. That is simply unacceptable.

“This argument is not about human rights. It is about public safety and the effective prevention of crime. More than two-thirds of children re-offend within a year of release. For male boys aged 15 to 18, the re-offending rate stands at 82%, rising to a staggering 96% for those with more than seven convictions. Using violence on these children – most of whom are vulnerable, with complex problems – simply confirms their offending behaviour and does nothing to tackle the underlying issues.”

David Hanson MP, justice minister

“Restraint should always be a last resort. I believe that the Youth Justice Board shares this view and that they are acting and will continue to act in a way that reflects this policy.

“The Youth Justice Board’s code of practice, Managing Children and Young People’s Behaviour in the Secure Estate, stresses the need to manage challenging behaviour without physical intervention wherever it is possible to do so. Staff in custodial settings must have the skills to de-escalate tense situations by talking, by reasoning and by the example of their own behaviour.

“The code of practice states that physical restrictive interventions must only be used as a last resort, when there is no alternative available or all other options have been exhausted. So the question is whether there are some circumstances where physical intervention is ever appropriate.

“Young people who find themselves in custody usually do so because all attempts to manage their behaviour in the community have failed. When a group of volatile young people live together in a custodial setting there are bound to be occasions where tempers suddenly flare and staff have to intervene to prevent people, including the young people themselves, from getting hurt.

“Most people accept that sometimes it is necessary to use restraint to stop a young person trying to escape, prevent them injuring themselves or others, stop them from causing damage, or stop them inciting others to do any of those things. What has caused controversy is the idea that, in addition, physical restraint may be needed to ensure good order and discipline.

“It is for these reasons that I have, with the children’s minister Beverley Hughes, instigated a six-month review into the use of restraint. The deaths of Adam Rickwood and Gareth Myatt were a tragedy. Sadly, the issue of restraint is one that will need to be examined, and I believe that the independent review will give us all an opportunity to do that.”

Steve Bostock, prison officer and national executive officer of the Prison Officers’ Association

“When we look at the word ‘child’, we have to accept in our profession that this includes young people aged 15 to 18. During their time with us, not only is education attended, so is the gymnasium. Fitness and strength is an area in which many individuals excel. With this in mind, one would have to agree that there are some big, strong, fit, agile children in this age group.

“The answer to whether it is ever appropriate to restrain a child is, therefore, very much yes. We have to have consider the safety of staff, of children in our custody, and of visitors. If there is a situation where one child is assaulted by another, we cannot and will not just stand by and watch it carry on. The same goes for a member of staff or visitor being assaulted by a child.

“Restraint might also be needed to actually quell a situation, such as a riot. Control and restraint would be used to remove ringleaders to re-establish order and control.

“It is also right to allow restraint to be used for the purpose of ensuring good order and discipline. In our wing, there are 112 children supervised by 11 officers. With this very high ratio, staff don’t just jump on any child they see; it is the threat and
knowledge that control and restraint is there to be used when appropriate that is important.

“The professionalism of staff to deal with situations quickly and be able to read potential situations before they come
to fruition are some of the main ways of establishing good order and discipline.

“If an establishment does not have good order and discipline then there would be no establishment; it would be destroyed, anarchy would rule, no one would be safe and those in our custody would escape.

“Prison officers know full well that control and restraint are the last resort, not the first. There are other lines an officer goes down first, which include talking, calming down, de-escalation techniques and removing others from the area to remove an audience. Prison officers are very professional people and won’t restrain these children unless it is absolutely necessary.”



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