Tragedy and custody

It could hardly have come at a worse time for Rod Morgan, the new
chair of the Youth Justice Board. Just as the YJB has been
increasing the number of beds in secure training centres for young
people in custody, 15-year-old Gareth Myatt died in an incident at
the Rainsbrook STC. He had just begun a 12-month detention and
training order at the centre, which is run by Rebound, part of
Group 4.

A full explanation of the circumstances leading up to Gareth’s
death must await the outcome of a serious case review and a police
investigation. But the tragedy happened after he lost consciousness
while being restrained by three members of staff at the centre near
Rugby. None of the staff has been suspended, though they have all
been moved to administrative duties.

The rules on physical restraint, though often rigorous, tend to
vary from one kind of setting to another and this is as true within
the juvenile secure estate as it is anywhere else. Young offenders
institutions use the same no-nonsense methods as are used in adult
prisons, but the techniques employed in secure training centres are
supposed to be much more subtle, with the use of pain and prone
restraint expressly prohibited.

Rainsbrook itself has been seen as a model of its kind,
successfully walking the tightrope between care and control, and it
has received glowing reports from the Social Services Inspectorate.
It boasts a high staff to children ratio and a strong focus on
education, and the children detained there have spoken highly of
staff in the past.

If any blame is attached to the centre by the inquiries into
Gareth’s death, in spite of its achievements, the YJB’s policy of
switching more young people from local authority secure children’s
homes to secure training centres will be called into question. But
whatever the investigations into the case reveal, the whole sorry
episode raises once again the issue of why it is necessary to hold
15 year olds, and children who are younger still, in custody at
all. The numbers on remand continue to rise, partly as a result of
breached anti-social behaviour orders. When will the government
learn that custody is seldom, if ever, the answer for this
vulnerable age group?

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