Pain-inducing restraint ban: Government delays decision

By Nina Jacobs

| 22 July 2019

Campaigners have criticised the government for failing to carry out a recommendation to ban pain-inducing restraint within the youth secure estate, which has been described as child abuse.

Article 39 director Carolyne Willow said it was "deeply regrettable" that the DfE's myth-busting guide was still in circulation

A recently published government response to the joint committee on human rights' report, Youth detention: solitary confinement and restraint, suggests it "remains undecided" on the practice, according to children's rights charity Article 39.

The charity backs the report, which calls for such techniques to be outlawed for breaching human rights and causing physical distress and psychological harm in both the short and longer term.

The charity highlighted how the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse earlier this year also concluded the practices are a form of child abuse.

The government response to the report indicates that it would only consider a ban once it has considered the findings of an independent review by Charlie Taylor, the chair of the Youth Justice Board.

Taylor was appointed last year to head up an investigation into the practice at young offender institutions and secure training centres, as well as when young people are escorted between these settings and secure children's homes.

Carolyne Willow, Article 39's director, said: "When a public inquiry says that children are being abused as a result of government policy, it is incumbent on ministers to take immediate action to change that policy and stop the mistreatment.

"We are coming up to five months since the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse recommended the prohibition of pain-inducing restraint, and we don't even know whether ministers want to remove these violent techniques let alone how they will go about training and supporting staff to eschew prison forms of control."

While the practice is banned in secure children's homes and health settings, the committee heard evidence about its ongoing use in YOIs.

The report states: "Their testimony powerfully illustrated to us the damaging impacts upon children when they are restrained or separated, including long-term impacts.

"We received unanimous evidence from medics, inspectors, lawyers, and staff who work in detention, that restraint and separation are harmful to children and should be avoided if at all possible."

The deliberate infliction of pain in YOIs is "unacceptable" under any circumstances under rights legislation, it concludes.

It says the use of restraint for maintaining "good order and discipline" must be banned in all but the most exceptional of circumstances.

The committee also recommends that decisions made by YOIs to extend periods of solitary confinement beyond 72 hours should be reported to the responsible minister on a monthly basis.

In some cases, young people had experienced prolonged periods of solitary confinement which had lasted at least 15 days.

"This breach of children's rights is not a policy decision by the government, but it is within the power of government to prevent it," the report concludes.

It acknowledges there could be cases of children in custody who are "so unwell, violent or afraid that it is difficult to know how to treat them".

But it says they should be moved to institutions equipped to look after them or their current setting should be reconfigured to adopt an alternative response than solitary confinement.

A joint letter from justice minister Edward Argar health and social care minister Jackie Doyle-Price and children's minister Nadhim Zahawi, said: "We take the findings raised in the report very seriously.

"Ensuring the safety and wellbeing of the children in our care is the highest priority and we have, therefore, always sought to minimise the use of restraint and segregation.

"The use of pain-inducing restraint techniques in young offenders' institutions and secure training centres is currently the subject of an independent review commissioned by the Ministry of Justice in late 2018.

"The outcome of that review is due in the summer and will inform future policy in this area."

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