Month: November 2015

Two reports emphasise the risks (and realities) of rights violations

Two reports released yesterday underline the risks of rights violations in institutional settings.

The first, a leaked report obtained by the BBC, tells of a 17 year-old disabled girl who was living in a residential health setting in Plymouth. She was sedated and flown to an adult setting in Dundee, as she approached her 18th birthday in 2007. The BBC reports that no consent was sought or obtained from the girl, either for the medication or the transfer to Scotland. Her parents were also not consulted. The girl’s advocate opposed the actions but was ignored. Dr Gabriel Scally, the former head of public health in south-west England, fought to get an investigation into the unlawful treatment and was refused a copy of the subsequent report.

No information is contained in the BBC news piece about any recommendations the report may have made about wider implications for policy and practice. Clearly this case raises questions about the power of advocates to take action to defend the rights of children when there is an immediate threat of violation.

The second report was published by the prisons inspectorate and is a review of the Minimising and Managing Physical Restraint (MMPR) system introduced in secure training centres from 2013 and due to be used in all young offender institutions by July 2016. As the chief inspector of prisons explains in his introduction, MMPR was developed following the restraint-related deaths of two boys, Gareth Myatt and Adam Rickwood, in secure training centres in 2004. The review found:

  • Prison officers in young offender institutions regularly inflict severe pain as a form of restraint. These techniques would only be lawful in extreme situations, yet the inspectorate found “pain used for non-compliance and failure to obey staff instructions immediately. In one use of force record, the reason for use of pain was recorded as ‘refusal to move back to cell. Needed to move [child] to continue with the regime’.”

    Another shocking case concerns a child with a broken wrist (inspectors don’t say whether the injury occurred during restraint). The boy was threatened with pain because he refused to follow orders. Inspectors concluded, “Poor recording and unclear CCTV footage meant that we were unable to verify if a pain-inducing technique was actually used on the boy.”

    Spot checks on general restraint records revealed that pain had been used more times than the prisons had officially recorded.

  • Frequent reports of children struggling to breathe during restraint, with some staff sceptical that children are telling the truth when they complain of being unable to breathe. The report reminds readers that Gareth told the three officers holding him down that he couldn’t breathe. They refused to believe him, retorting: “If you can talk, you can breathe” and Gareth died within minutes.
  • “Several examples” of children having all of their clothes removed whilst being restrained. A case study graphically highlights the assault on children’s dignity: “One boy we spoke to was restrained after threatening staff with a broken plastic knife. Once staff had restrained him and taken the knife, he was moved to a special cell and asked to remove his clothes: ‘When they got me to the special cell they asked me to take my clothes off. I said I would … They took me straight to the floor, before I had a chance to do it myself. Someone put a knee in my back, which did hurt a lot. They took my shirt off completely, then my trousers, boxers and shoes. They chucked a jumper on me to cover my bum.’”
  • “Dangerous examples” of restraint being used on children with medical or other conditions. Inspectors report that, “In general, staff were unfamiliar with the content of [individual restraint] plans; this was a serious oversight that could have led to significant injuries.”
  • Girls being restrained in a way which evokes past abuse. For example, one girl reported, “‘One member of staff grabbed my neck and then others pushed me to the ground and held me there telling me to calm down. While I was on the floor a male member of staff was holding my head almost between his knees. I have been sexually abused in the past so you can imagine how that made me feel. I was terrified.’”
  • Inspectors watched CCTV footage of children being kept in a head hold whilst being walked up and down flights of stairs and across long distances. Painful techniques were used even after children had calmed down. Children’s accounts in the report include, “‘I had my wrist bent back; all the while I was walking up the stairs. It was really painful. I went up three landings with my neck and wrist in flexion.’” and “‘My wrists were behind my back and my head was pushed down and I was taken all the way to the seg like that. I wasn’t kicking or going mad but I was trying to struggle because I wanted to get some control back.’”

Many more examples of abusive treatment are contained in the inspectorate’s detailed report. Its 10 recommendations include the cessation of restraint techniques which deliberately inflict pain on children, no more strip-searching under restraint and Local Safeguarding Children Boards and local authorities ensuring they are equipped to maintain effective independent oversight of restraint.

Charities seek reassurances about MTCnovo

In a letter to Lord McNally, the Chair of the Youth Justice Board, Article 39, the Howard League for Penal Reform and INQUEST say we are “deeply troubled” that MTCnovo, the company taking over the management of Rainsbrook secure training centre, appears to have no experience of looking after vulnerable children in a residential setting. Information we have been able to collate about MTC’s management of adult prisons in the United States is “disturbing”.

We seek the following reasurances:

  • During the contracting process, was the Youth Justice Board made aware of the judicial and civil society concerns in the US we outline in respect of adult prisons managed by MTC?
  • What professional qualifications will MTCnovo managers and staff be required to have?
  • What ratio of staff to children will be followed during weekday and weekend shifts?
  • Will there be any change to the numbers of children held in Rainsbrook?
  • We understand the YJB monitor has been maintaining closer scrutiny of Rainsbrook since February’s inspection; will this continue during and after the transition to MTCnovo management?
  • Will MTCnovo be required contractually to notify all restraint injuries, every use of strip-searching and all child protection allegations to the local authority, consistent with the guidance issued last year by the Association of Independent Chairs of Local Safeguarding Children Boards and the NSPCC?
  • Will the company permit access to Rainsbrook by interested groups such as ourselves and welcome external scrutiny?
  • Will it respond to Freedom of Information requests, since its work with children will be completely funded by the taxpayer?
  • Finally, has provision been made in the five-year contract for early termination should it be found that children have not been properly cared for, and protected, at Rainsbrook?

Letter to Lord McNally


BASW raises concerns about residential care review

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) has expressed concern about the review of residential care, announced by the Prime Minister last week. It questions why such a review is required, since a parliamentary inquiry was undertaken on children’s homes in 2013. Social workers “find it hard not to see this latest announcement as anything more than a further roll out of the government’s privatisation agenda”, BASW adds.

The review will be undertaken by Sir Martin Narey, who was chief executive of Barnardo’s following a long career in the prison service. In August, he was appointed to the board of the Ministry of Justice.

Narey issued a call for evidence on 28 October, with a deadline of 31 December 2015. The consultation document has no questions but states Narey intends to explore:

  • the types of residential care that are currently provided, in order to understand the full range of provision which is available and when and for which young people it is best used
  • what works within residential care settings to improve outcomes for the young people placed in them
  • what improvements could be made to the way that residential care provision is commissioned, delivered, regulated and inspected to improve outcomes and value for money
  • whether there are better alternatives for some of the children who are currently in residential care
  • any other issues which might contribute to better outcomes for children in care.

He has specifically asked for the views of children, young people and adults who once lived in residential care.

The scope of the review will extend to secure children’s homes, residential schools, secure training centres and young offender institutions. Of these, only secure children’s homes are presently not run by private companies. There is clear overlap with Charlie Taylor’s review of youth justice, which also includes custodial institutions. Narey is due to report in spring 2016 and Taylor in summer 2016.

Article 39 will be submitting to the review.