Inquiry demands better protection for children in prison

One in five instances of restraint of children in custody either resulted in an injury to the child or staff member involved, an inquiry has revealed.

The inquiry, commissioned by the Howard League for Penal Reform and chaired by Lord Carlile QC, was set up to investigate the use of physical restraint, solitary confinement and forcible strip searching of children in custody following the death of Gareth Myatt, who died aged 15 while being restrained by officers in Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre.

Lord Carlile called on the Youth Justice Board to make it clear that restraint should never be used as a punishment, should never be premeditated, and should never be used to secure compliance. A single certified physical intervention technique should be developed to be used across the secure estate, he said.

He concluded that strip searching was “not necessary for good order and safety” and that the number of strip searches carried out could be halved without increasing risk to security.

Although “time out” could be a useful technique for easing tension, it should never be for more than a few minutes, and solitary confinement should never be used as a punishment, Carlile added. Whenever it was used, it should always be properly recorded and children should have access to an advocate.

The inquiry raised particular concerns about the lack of appropriate education and training among staff working in all types of penal institutions, pointing out that the only compulsory component of prison officer training is physical control and restraint.

“Compulsory training should focus on children’s human rights, communicating positively with children, child protection, and creating positive environments for care and rehabilitation,” the inquiry report suggests.

Echoing demands made by children’s rights campaigners throughout the Children Act 2004’s passage through Parliament, Carlile recommend that overall responsibility for children in custody should rest with the children’s minister, not the Home Office.

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