Young people in custody are being increasingly subjected to restraint, while incidents of self-harm are also on the rise, despite falling numbers of under-18s in the secure estate.
The figures show that 19 young people required hospital treatment following restraint in 2011/12. Image: Phil Adams
According to the annual Youth Justice Statistics, published by the Ministry of Justice, there has been a rise in the use of restraint for the second successive year.
In total, 8,419 restraint incidents were recorded in 2011/12 across secure children’s homes, secure training centres and young offender institutions, an increase of 17 per cent on 2010/11 when there were 7,191 incidents.
The increase comes despite a government pledge to reduce its use, following an independent review in 2009, prompted by the death of two boys in separate restraint incidents.
The official figures also show there has been a sharp increase in the number of under-18s harming themselves in custody. Self-harm incidents rose 21 per cent from 1,424 in 2010/11, to 1,725 in 2011/12.
Meanwhile, there were 33 restraint incidents involving injury in secure children’s homes, 68 in secure training centres, and 153 in young offender institutions during 2011/12.
Of the total 254 injuries suffered, 93 per cent were classed as “minor”, although the remaining seven per cent (19 incidents) were classed as “serious” and required hospital treatment.
It is the highest number of serious injuries related to restraint in the past four years – a 46 per cent increase on 2010/11 when there were 13 serious injuries.
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said youth jails are “failing in their most basic duty to keep young people in their care safe".
“Too many children end up in custody after being the victims of abuse, bad parenting or mental health, drug or alcohol problems,” Crook said.
“These vulnerable children need our help to turn over a new leaf before they’re condemned to a life of crime.
“A prison sentence puts troubled children into a violent atmosphere that only worsens their problems and makes them more likely to commit crime on release."
Penelope Gibbs, chair of the Standing Committee for Youth Justice, described the rise in restraint and self-harm as “worrying”.
“It is particularly surprising given that the falling number of young people in custody should have meant that staff to child ratios improved," she said.
“Restraint should be an absolute last resort if it is within the framework of tools which are allowed to be used.
“The increase in its use indicates a lack of specialist training for those in the secure estate that deal with children. Most of these incidents should be avoidable.
“The rise in self-harm indicates the levels of unhappiness, anxiety, stress, and depression in the youth secure estate.”
A new restraint system was announced in July last year, four months after the most recent reporting period ended. It is currently being introduced across the secure estate.
The new system focuses on so-called “de-escalation techniques” and the use of restorative justice, in order to deal more effectively with potential flashpoints in youth custody.
However campaigners have raised concerns that “pain techniques” are still permitted under the new system.
John Drew, chief executive of the Youth Justice Board (YJB), said: “We believe that restraint should be used sparingly, and as a last resort.
“The government’s new restraint system, minimising and managing physical restraint, is founded on this assumption and is currently being introduced.
“At the same time we believe that systems for restraint are necessary to safeguard children and young people in custody.
“Furthermore all custody centres must have a restraint minimisation strategy, which promotes an establishment-wide commitment to reduce incidents of restraint and ensure each incident is robustly reviewed. These are aims we fully support.
“The YJB monitors and reviews all establishments holding young people and remains as strongly committed as ever to reducing the incidents of restraint in custody centres across England and Wales.
“We advise all centres to manage behaviour positively to minimise the need for restraint.”
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