YJB appeals decision to make restraint manual public

The Youth Justice Board is appealing against a decision by the Information Commissioner which would see details of controversial restraint techniques currently used in secure training centres being made public.

Following a complaint from the Children’s Rights Alliance and a Freedom of Information Act request to the YJB, the Information Commissioner ruled it in the public interest that details from the 114-page Physical Control in Care Prison Service manual be released.

Gerrard Tracey, assistant information commissioner, said the disclosure of the secret manual could lead to restraint techniques being subjected to public scrutiny, which may result in changes “with the aim of better protecting young people’s health and safety”.

Appeal lodged

But a spokesperson for the YJB today confirmed that an appeal has been lodged against the decision. “The Information Tribunal is being asked to reassess this case and we look forward to their decision,” said the spokesperson. The board had claimed that disclosure could “prejudice security and put the health and safety of young people and staff within STCs at risk.”

Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said it was “shocking that the Youth Justice Board does not think it is necessary to explain the approved violence that goes on in children’s prisons”.

“Anything less than absolute transparency from the YJB should not be tolerated,” she said, adding that the use of restraint on children is “dangerous and counterproductive in the long term as it teaches young people that violence is an appropriate way to deal with problems”.

A 2008 report on STCs by the Joint Committee on Human Rights disagreed with the YJB and the Ministry of Justice that publication of restraint techniques “might lead to their being attempted by people who had not received the necessary training”, or make it “possible for young people to develop counter-techniques”.

Alarming techniques

The committee noted the “impossibility of scrutinising for human rights compatibility techniques of physical restraint which remain secret,” and said it was “alarmed” by the headings of some of the redacted statements. These include the titles “hair grab”, “strangle against the wall” and “kicks on the floor”.

Physical restraint – which includes using so-called distraction techniques which can involve deliberately inflicting pain on children – has been a highly contentious topic across the sector, following the 2004 deaths of Gareth Myatt and Adam Rickwood, both 14. 

Myatt died while being restrained at Rainsbrook STC in Northamptonshire. Rickwood hanged himself at Hassockfield STC in County Durham shortly after being forcibly restrained by officers using the “nose distraction technique”.

The ongoing appeal against the information commissioner’s decision will be heard by the Information Tribunal, but a spokesperson confirmed that a decision won’t be reached for “several months at least”.

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