Custody staff need crisis communication training

Nathan Ward
Tuesday, September 29, 2020

The Independent review of the use of pain-inducing techniques – published over the summer – in short hasn’t told us anything we didn’t know before and the heart of the recommendations are simply echoes of previous reports that still haven’t been enacted.

Nathan Ward is vicar of St Margaret’s Church, Rainham, and a former youth custody deputy director
Nathan Ward is vicar of St Margaret’s Church, Rainham, and a former youth custody deputy director

What is striking is the proposed response to incidents where there is an “immediate threat to life”. In essence, it recommends (and the government agrees) that in such circumstances you can only pull their thumb back, twist their wrist or put a finger behind their ear. Remember, this is at a time when someone is potentially dying due to violence.

It has now been announced that techniques including painful restraint will be taken out of the main syllabus and placed into “personal protection” training. Within the restraint system for the adult estate, the personal protection training was simplified mainly to punches and kicks as specialised techniques were deemed too complicated when under significant duress.

I’ve studied in depth more than 156 deaths caused by physical restraint, so I am well aware on how things can go horribly wrong. I am also a whistleblower, so understand the devastating impact when those in authority abuse their power. However, I have spent the best part of 15 years working within custodial settings knowing how violent things can become.

These settings are not above the law, which is very clear when it comes to defending your, or someone else’s, life. Simply put, you can do anything that is reasonable based on your perceived threat at the time (Section 3.1 Criminal Law Act 1967). It is this same law which forms the basis of an armed police officer being able to fire a gun at someone.

Therefore, I would strongly suggest that far more emphasis, training, staffing and money should be used to prevent physical restraints in the first place. It is this training that was most cut in the original MMPR (Minimising and managing physical restraint) package due to cost. In addition, more robust application of the law – and not just disciplinary procedures – should be used against staff who use force that is not reasonable, proportionate or necessary.

As soon as the violence has started, then any form of physical restraint that involves what is known as “swarming” is extremely dangerous.

We need to train people for a minimum of three days on crisis communication – a basic negotiators course in which armed police are trained – as well as give staff sufficient tactical options in order to bring a swift resolution where physical interventions are essential. In giving the staff options that will work, we increase their confidence to negotiate. Research has shown this with armed response police officers – they are more likely to deal with “normal incidents” through negotiation than their unarmed colleagues.

This is desperately needed within the secure estate – one which empowers staff to deal with violent incidents through the least means necessary and for them to be held to account for their actions.

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