Werrington YOI cleared in strip search child protection probe

A Staffordshire Council child protection probe has found that Werrington Young Offender Institution’s use of strip searching is lawful, after it was roundly criticised in a chief inspector of prisons report.

The inquiry was sparked by the Howard League for Penal Reform, which made a child protection referral in the wake of Anne Owers’ report, published last September. The latter criticised Werrington’s policy of allowing strip-searching by force and cited two cases in which inmates had had their clothes cut away, one of which was filmed.

A Staffordshire Council spokeperson said children’s services officials met managers at Werrington and considered a “substantial amount of material”, before concluding the use of strip searching was lawful, though could be improved.

New AssetIn a letter to Howard League director Frances Crook (pictured) last month, Staffordshire’s deputy corporate director of children’s services, Sally Rees, said the filmed strip-search did not cross the child protection threshold – that there was reasonable cause to suspect the child was suffering significant harm.

Instead, she said it was a “legal and proportionate response” given the level of risk posed by the young person to himself and others. She also said Werrington’s general use of strip-searching was “compliant with existing Prison Service standards”.

The council spokesperson added that Staffordshire’s safeguarding children board was working with Werrington to improve practice on strip-searching.

Frances Crook said she was disappointed by the outcome of the investigation and said the Howard League was considering taking out a test case on the use of strip-searching in YOIs.

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