The controversial use of restraint in young offender institutions has risen this year, according to a survey by HM Inspectorate and the Youth Justice Board.
Children and Young People in Custody 2008-2009: An analysis of the experiences of 15-18-year-olds in prison found 29% of young men said they had been physically restrained over the past year. This compares with 25% in last year’s report.
The findings also revealed a drop in the number of young men who felt that most staff treated them with respect.
There were some improvements: the number of young men who rated their healthcare services as “good” or “very good” was higher, as was the number who felt safe on arrival and whose YOT worker or social worker had been in touch since they entered custody.
Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said the rise in the use of restraint was “particularly worrying at a time when youth custody numbers are falling.”
She added: “It is not appropriate to use violence against children because it is counter-productive and can cause serious injury or even death. This report highlights the need to develop more sophisticated methods of dealing with our most challenging children.”
Penelope Gibbs, director of strategy at the Prison Reform Trust, agreed. “The use of restraint in prisons is already too high,” she said. “It is symptomatic of staff not being properly trained in how to de-fuse situations calmly.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said a new behaviour management system was being developed to replace restraint systems in young offender institutions and secure training centres.
“Every technique within this new system will be accredited by an independent Restraint Accreditation Board,” he said. “Use of pain-compliant techniques will remain the last resort.”
The use of restraint has been a matter of public concern in the five years since Gareth Myatt, 15, and Adam Rickwood, 14, died in separate secure training centres. Both deaths followed the use of restraint, inquests found.
Invest in vulnerable children
The report also found that a quarter of young men and nearly half of young women in custody had been in care, while nearly 90% of young men and women had been excluded from school.
Prison Reform Trust director Juliet Lyon said: “Government must address the often well-trodden path to custody by children who have been in care and who have been excluded from school.”
Chief Inspector of Prisons Dame Anne Owers agreed that it showed the need to invest in vulnerable children and young people “before they reach the criminal justice system, and to provide them with the support they need afterwards”.
Frances Done, Chair of the YJB, said the board commissions these surveys “to ensure that we gather the first-hand experiences of young people in custody.” She added: “While significant achievements have been made much still remains to be done.”