Self-harm in youth custody on the rise

By Neil Puffett

| 29 January 2016

Young people in custody are increasingly likely to harm themselves, latest figures show.

Proportionally more children in youth custody are self-harming. Picture: Guzelian

Annual youth justice statistics collated by the Youth Justice Board (YJB) show that in the year ending March 2015 there were 1,315 incidents of self-harm in custody.

Although this is marginally fewer than the previous year when there were 1,318 cases, the fact that numbers of young people in custody have been falling mean that in 2014/15 there were 7.7 incidents per 100 young people each month in 2014/15 compared with 6.6 in 2013/14. In 2012/13 there were 5.2 incidents of self-harm per 100 young people each month.

Publication of the figures comes just weeks after allegations of abuse and mistreatment of young people by staff at Medway Secure Training Centre in Kent featured in a BBC Panorama programme.

Allegations include the inappropriate use of restraint, staff punching a young person in the ribs, another being slapped several times on the head, and staff pressing heavily on the necks of young people.

In 2014/15 there were a total of 4,837 restraints – the equivalent of 28.2 each month per 100 young people in custody. This compares with 5,714 incidents of restraint in 2013/14 – the equivalent of 28.4 restraints each month per 100 young people.

In the year ending March 2015 a total of 106 incidents of restraint resulted in a reported injury requiring medical treatment. There were also five incidents where the injury was so serious that hospital treatment was required.

Carolyne Willow, director at campaign charity Article 39, said: “The UK government was told by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2008 to abolish the use of restraint for disciplinary purposes in child prisons.

"Today’s statistics show there were 423 incidents of restraint for 'passive non-compliance’ in just two young offender institutions in 2014/15.

"Prison officers are not recruited for their expertise or professional qualifications in looking after vulnerable children, so we can’t blame them. It’s the policy of sending children to institutions ill-equipped to properly care for them that must change.”

The Youth Justice Board pointed to the fact that the number of children entering the youth justice system for the first time has fallen by nine per cent, from 22,648 in 2013/14 to 20,544 in 2014/15.

They added that the figures also show that there are fewer young people committing offences than ever before, with the number of proven offences, falling to 87,160 – down four per cent on 2013/14.

Lin Hinnigan, YJB chief executive, said: "It is very encouraging to see 2,100 fewer young people entered the youth justice system, that there are even fewer in custody and the number of proven offences is falling.

"Reducing reoffending remains a priority for us. We are drilling down into the data to examine how the frequency and seriousness of offending has changed and we continue to develop and share effective practice in addressing reoffending behaviour with others in the sector."

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