Critics attack ‘illegal' plan to use force in secure colleges

By Neil Puffett

| 06 February 2014

Campaigners have hit out at plans to allow staff at secure colleges the power to use force on children and young people to "ensure good order and discipline".

The use of restraint rose proportionally in 2012/13. Picture: Peter Crane

Following last month’s announcement by the Ministry of Justice that it intends to develop a network of secure colleges, proposed legislation was laid down in parliament yesterday as part of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill to pave the way for their creation.

The bill sets out that a secure college custody officer will be permitted to “use reasonable force where necessary” to “ensure good order and discipline”.

Under the current wording of the bill, force will also be permitted to:

  • Prevent escape
  • Prevent or detect unlawful acts
  • Carry out a search of a young person

The circumstances under which force and restraint can be used against young people in custody is tightly controlled.

But allowing staff to use force to maintain good order and discipline appears to go against a 2008 legal ruling.

The Court of Appeal ruled that attempts to allow staff in secure training centres to use force to ensure good order and discipline violated the European Convention on Human Rights.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The scandalous proposal to allow prison officers to restrain children violently, simply if they don’t follow orders, turns back the clock to a deadly time for children in prison.

“Court rulings have made clear that restraining a child for ‘good order and discipline’ is illegal and inquests into the deaths of children have shown that such violent practices contributed to their deaths.

“We trust that such a dangerous proposal will be challenged in parliament and, if need be, in the courts.”

The Ministry of Justice has denied that the Bill will pave the way for force to be used to ensure good order.

Justice Minister Jeremy Wright said: "We are clear that restraint should only ever be used against young people as a last resort where it is absolutely necessary to do so and where no other form of intervention is possible or appropriate.
 
"The Bill published today does not contain proposals to allow children to be restrained for 'good order and discipline'.
 
"No decisions have been made yet on the use of restraint in secure colleges.
 
"We have recently rolled out a new system of minimising restraint in young offenders institutions and secure training centres which is independently assessed.

"We will build on these positive developments when looking at how restraint will be used in the new establishment.”

Figures published last month showed that young people in custody are increasingly likely to be subjected to restraint.

The Ministry of Justice statistics show that although the overall number of restraints in the youth secure estate fell 23 per cent from 8,419 in 2011/12 to 6,455 in 2012/13, use of the controversial practice increased proportionally.

Due to the falling population of young people in custody, the number of restraint incidents per 100 young people actually rose two per cent from 25.1 restraints per 100 young people in 2011/12, to 25.6 in 2012/13.

Restraint has long been a controversial issue within the youth secure estate.

In 2004, 14-year-old Adam Rickwood was found hanging in his cell at Hassockfield Secure Training Centre, hours after being subjected to the controversial "nose distraction" restraint technique by prison staff.

In the same year, 15-year-old Gareth Myatt died while being restrained by three staff at the G4S-run Rainsbrook STC in Northamptonshire.

 

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