YJB to investigate safer restraint techniques

By Joe Lepper

| 23 May 2014

The Youth Justice Board (YJB) is carrying out two reviews into ways of making physical restraint in young offender settings safer and pain free.

The YJB has identified making restraint safer as a priority for 2014/15. Image: Lucie Carlier

The initiatives are part of the YJB’s business plan for 2014/15, which identifies ensuring young people in the secure estate are safe as a priority area.

One of the reviews is looking at alternative ways to hold young people’s head during restraint, which a YJB spokeswoman said would be done by "comparing the physiological and psychological impact of different head-hold techniques”.

The other involves research into “non-pain inducing” restraint techniques used around the world in a range of  “volatile and serious situations” not just involving young offenders, the spokeswoman added.

The YJB will then look to see if any of these alternatives could then be deployed within the secure estate for children and young people in England and Wales.

Findings from both studies will be published later this year.

This latest move comes amid criticism from prison reform campaigners about the use of excessive force when restraining young offenders.

Deborah Coles, co-director of the campaign group Inquest, wants the YJB reviews to go further and look at ending physical restraint unless used as a last resort.

She said: “The use of physical restraint carries an inherent risk of harm and the priority for YJB research should be the elimination of restraint unless as an absolute last resort.

“Restraint is too embedded in the culture of youth custody and the priority for the YJB should be to break this culture and train staff in alternatives such as de-escalation and a more restorative approach. The YJB must ensure robust scrutiny of any use of force incident.”

Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform welcomed the YJB’s focus on minimising pain during restraint.

He said: “Pain should never be deliberately inflicted on children as part of restraint and there is evidence in other countries and settings that this can be achieved. We welcome any research that seeks to minimise or eliminate unnecessary suffering.”

Prison reform campaigners latest concerns have focused on Ministry of Justice proposals to allow custody officers in its planned network of secure colleges to “use reasonable force where necessary” to “ensure good order and discipline”.

Most recent figures show the number of restraint incidents in the youth secure estate rose by two per cent between 2011/12 and 2012/13.

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