‘PAIN-INDUCING TECHNIQUES’ –used against young offenders

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A REPORT on ‘behaviour management and restraint of children in custody’ reveals that ‘pain-inducing techniques’ are in frequent use in young offender institutions.

Published by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons yesterday, the report focuses on the new system known as ‘minimising and managing physical restraint’ (MMPR) in child custody, which was adopted following the deaths of two boys in secure training centres in 2004.

The report found:

• In almost half of MMPR incidents reviewed by inspectors, children ended up on the floor. The new system does not allow staff to take children to the floor intentionally during a restraint because of the medical risks this poses.

• The use of pain should be a last resort, but inspectors found that ‘pain-inducing techniques were used frequently’ in young offender institutions. In one incident, pain had been used on a boy who had just attended an appointment to determine whether he was at risk of injuring himself. The boy had a shoelace in his hand, but staff did not give him any time to give it up.

• Several children told inspectors that staff had put an arm around their neck, which did not relate to the approved MMPR guidance about applying a head hold.

• Children frequently reported to inspectors that they struggled to breathe during a restraint.

• Health staff did not always attend after a child had been restrained. One member of health staff said: ‘We will examine the young person depending on their mood. We are guided by officers about this and we may just speak to them through their door.’

• Reviewing CCTV footage, inspectors found examples of officers ‘squaring up’ to children in the lead-up to a restraint. They reported that, in one incident, an officer was ‘seen to clench his fist and appeared to be prepared to strike the child on two occasions. In the records, he argued that it was for his personal safety, but as two officers were holding the child’s arms his actions and account were clearly not justified.’

• A girl told inspectors: ‘One member of staff grabbed my neck and then others pushed me to the ground and held me there telling me to calm down. While I was on the floor a male member of staff was holding my head almost between his knees. I have been sexually abused in the past so you can imagine how that made me feel. I was terrified.’

The Howard League for Penal Reform says its legal team has received reports of children being slapped, having their hair pulled and being removed from their beds and restrained while not fully clothed.

Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League, said: ‘Let us be clear: inflicting violence on troubled children in prison is the sign of a system that is failing those children.

‘The fact that pain-inducing techniques are still frequently used in attempts to manage behaviour is a damning indictment of youth justice in this country.’