An expert who led a review of restraint on young offenders has defended his controversial call for staff to be permitted to inflict pain in dangerous situations.
Peter Smallridge (pictured), who co-authored the review with fellow ex-social services director Andrew Williamson, told Community Care that the use of pain was necessary in “exceptional circumstances” but with safeguards in place. But he called for a reduction in restraint incidents and warned of a lack of evidence on the safety of techniques.
The review, published by the Ministry of Justice in December, recommended tighter regulation of restraint but angered campaigners, including the Howard League for Penal Reform and the NSPCC, which back a ban on all painful holds.
The review was ordered after the inquests into the deaths of Adam Rickwood and Gareth Myatt. Adam, 14, was found hanging hours after being restrained at Hassockfield secure training centre in 2004. His death came just four months after Gareth, 15, died while being restrained at Rainsbrook STC.
Adam’s mother, Carol Pounder, who took part in the review, was among those who attacked its recommendation on the use of pain. “At home parents are not allowed to use force against their children,” she said. “Why are children in custody treated differently?”
Smallridge said he understood Pounder’s position but added: “We had to reconcile these concerns with the views of prison staff who are in favour of using batons. When you hear of cases where there are two officers to 60 young offenders you can understand where they were coming from.”
Smallridge admitted the position was “irreconcilable” with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the views of the UK’s children’s commissioners. But he argued: “Other young people and staff have human rights too. We felt we owed it to other young people in secure establishments and staff to quickly put an end to situations that could result in possible danger.” He also pointed out that many young offenders were “very strong with long histories of extreme violence”.
Specifically, the review recommended using wrist locks as a last resort, involving a swift infliction of pain to the wrist. “We have talked to medics and clinicians who said the hold is not dangerous and it would only be used after a risk assessment. It is not a perfect answer but we had to suggest something that would work in practice,” Smallridge said.
But he warned of a “black hole” in the evidence on the effects of restraints, leaving staff unaware of risks. “This is why we have asked the Youth Justice Board to undertake more research,” he said.
Implementing the recommendations
The government has pledged £4.9m to implement the review’s recommendations on secure children’s homes, secure training centres and young offender institutions. These include an accreditation system for restraints.