Children’s Commissioner attacks government over restraint

New AssetThe Children’s Commissioner for England has condemned legislation to extend staff powers to restrain children in secure training centres.

Sir Al Aynsley-Green (pictured) has told Community Care the recently introduced measure allowing staff to restrain children for reasons of “good order and discipline” could lead to a rise in the use of restraint. He said: “I am very concerned that I was not consulted on the proposed changes to the use of restraint against children and young people in secure training centres.

“Physical restraint should only ever be used against a child when it is absolutely necessary to protect that child from harm to him or herself or others and not to punish or secure compliance. If restraining children is deemed to be so frequently necessary for the purposes of maintaining good order and discipline in secure training centres, this raises fundamental questions about the ability of such settings to meet the needs and protect the rights of very vulnerable children and young people.”

The legislation was introduced by the government following the inquest into the death of 14-year-old Adam Rickwood, who was found hanging at Hassockfield secure training centre hours after being restrained by staff for refusing to go to his room.

Adam’s lawyers argued the restraint was illegal as staff in secure training centres can currently only restrain children at risk of harm or to prevent escape. The coroner called on the government to review the restraint rules, and in response the government produced a statutory instrument which it said would “clarify” the rules.

Shortly afterwards, the jury at the inquest of 15-year-old Gareth Myatt, who died after being restrained by three staff at Rainsbrook secure training centre, slammed the Youth Justice Board and Rainsbrook’s private managers Rebound for failing to monitor restraint.

The Commissioner said he had raised concerns with the Ministry of Justice and Children’s Minister Beverley Hughes, “expressing doubts over whether the amending statutory instrument marks a clarification as opposed to a change to existing law”.

He added: “The coroner, presiding over the inquest into the death of Adam Rickwood, called for urgent clarification of the law on the use of restraint in secure training centres in order to prevent the recurrence of future tragedies. I do not believe that the amendment which the government proposes will do anything to help prevent such tragedies from occurring again. Indeed, should the change lead to an increase in the use of physical restraint, it may have exactly the reverse effect and we will have learnt nothing from the deaths of Adam Rickwood and Gareth Myatt.”

There were 2,574 recorded incidents of restraint in STCs between February 2006 and March 2007, according to the latest official figures.

The Commissioner’s comments add to a growing outcry over the changes to restraint rules. Liberal Democrat Lord Carlile is leading a revolt in the House of Lords to halt the legislation. This week, prisons minister David Hanson agreed to review the legislation if Lord Carlile postponed a debate in the Lords scheduled for 9 July.

The debate in the Lords is now due in a fortnight, and Lord Carlile has laid down a three-line whip, meaning that all Liberal Democrat Lords will be compelled to vote.

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 Maria Ahmed

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