09:55, June 07 33 0 theguardian.com

2018-06-07 09:55:07
MoJ to review use of pain-inducing restraint on young offenders

The Ministry of Justice is launching a review of the use of pain-inducing restraint across all child prisons and escorting procedures after a children’s charity threatened legal action.

MoJ figures show there were 97 incidents last year in which young offenders showed signs of asphyxiation or other danger signs after being restrained, and four serious physical injuries that resulted in hospitalisation.

The charity Article 39 threatened legal action over authorisation for escort officers from the contractor GEOAmey to use pain-inflicting restraint techniques on children as young as 10 when escorting them to and from secure children’s homes.

Such techniques are banned in secure children’s homes themselves but can be used in secure training centres (STCs) and young offender institutions (YOIs).

Article 39, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Children’s Commissioner for Wales and others have urged the MoJ to banish pain-inducing techniques across the children’s secure estate.

In a letter to the shadow children’s minister, Emma Lewell-Buck, the youth justice minister, Phillip Lee, said that in limited circumstances the use of pain-inducing techniques in YOIs and STCs may be necessary and proportionate to protect a child or others from an immediate risk of serious physical harm.

Lee said the MoJ would carry out a full assessment of the use of pain-inducing techniques across the youth penal estate and in the escort environment. He said the review was expected to take 12 months to complete.

In 2012 the government introduced new guidelines on minimising and managing physical restraint (MMPR) for both children and adults. In 2015 the Guardian revealed that an internal risk assessment of restraint techniques had found that certain procedures approved for use against non-compliant children in custody carried a 40-60% chance of causing injuries affecting the child’s breathing or circulation, the consequences of which could be “catastrophic”.

The MoJ’s youth justice statistics bulletin in January said there was a 7% decrease in the number of children in custody last year and a 5% increase in the use of force against them by staff.

A third of the approved MMPR methods are pain-inducing. Publicly available copies of the instructor training manual depicting the techniques contain 182 redactions. Article 39 has been engaged in a protracted legal dispute with the MoJ to bring this material into the public domain.

In a recent parliamentary answer to a question tabled by Lewell-Buck, Lee confirmed that the organisations charged with investigating claims of abuse arising from the use of restraint, such as the prisons and probation ombudsman, would not be given access to the MMPR manual.

Lewell-Buck responded: “How on earth can anyone know if the rules have been broken if they don’t know what the rules are? If this abuse was happening in, say, care homes for the elderly, it would be a national scandal. But nobody seems to care about these children.”

Article 39’s director, Carolyne Willow, said the review was a welcome development but she feared that many in the prison and security sectors would defend the status quo.

“Prisons remain the only institutions where the deliberate infliction of pain on children is sanctioned. It will be up to all of us who work with and for children to reassure ministers that institutions can be run safely without the threat or imposition of pain,” she said.

An MoJ spokesman said: “Staff are trained to resolve conflict verbally and we are clear that restraint should only be used as a last resort where there is a risk of harm to self or others, and no other form of intervention is possible or appropriate. We are undertaking a review of our approach to ensure it remains appropriate for the youth estate and in line with the latest research.”

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