Month: February 2016

Escort staff to be allowed to inflict pain on children

Earlier this month, Prisons Minister Andrew Selous indicated in response to a parliamentary question that escort officers transporting children to and from secure training centres and secure children’s homes would start using the Minimising and Managing Physical Restraint (MMPR) system from April 2016.

Article 39 wrote to the Minister expressing concern about this move, since MMPR is known to involve the deliberate infliction of pain; secure children’s homes detain children as young as 10; and children’s homes’ statutory guidance (since 2011) prohibits staff deliberately inflicting pain as a form of restraint (page 31). We asked if MMPR had been authorised for use on children as young as 10 and, if so, if the Minister could “set out the rationale for these techniques being necessary, proportionate and lawful during the movement of children to and from these establishments, but not during their time living in them”.

In his response to our letter, the Minister states: “… MMPR training has been specifically tailored to take account of escort officers’ responsibilities towards the younger children in SCHs, although it is very rare for children as young as ten to be in custody. The principles applying to the use of pain-inducing techniques as part of a system of restraint are restricted to circumstances where it is necessary to protect a child or others from immediate risk of serious physical harm”.

One-third of the 12 core restraint techniques in MMPR rely on the infliction of pain, according to the Restraint Advisory Board (see page 56) established by the government to scrutinise the methods prior to their introduction. Significantly, the Board’s 2011 report states that it was not asked to review use of the MPPR techniques by escort providers:

“The terms of reference do not currently extend to assessment of restraint of children outside of the secure estate of YOIs and STCs, and in particular any restraint required during the regular escorting of children, for example to and from court or when transferring to other establishments. This is a complex area involving a variety of escorting agencies and vehicles used and the RAB is in no position to comment upon the suitability of any of the techniques in MMPR for such purposes.” (page 10)

In November 2015, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons published its review of MMPR and reported that officers in juvenile young offender institutions use pain-inducing techniques “frequently”, in breach of policy (and the law). The use of these techniques was also under-reported by prison officers. The inspectorate has consistently opposed the use of such techniques on children and, in this report, states, “We did not find any evidence to justify the use of pain compliance as an approved technique”.

One of the inspectorate’s 10 recommendations is that, “Pain-inducing techniques should not be used on children and, until this is agreed, all incidents of pain compliance should be reviewed by the MMPR national team”. Both the United Nations Committee Against Torture (in 2013) and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (in 2009) have urged the UK to stop allowing officers to inflict pain on children in prison.

Serco has the contract with the Youth Justice Board to transport children to and from secure training centres and secure children’s homes. A parliamentary question found that YJB-contracted escorts had used handcuffs on children 1,395 times between January 2010 and September 2013.

In December 2015, there were 105 children in secure children’s homes who had been sentenced or remanded by the courts.

Children are not chattel

The Guardian newspaper has today exposed further serious child abuse at G4S Medway secure training centre. The allegations include:

  • A 15 year-old girl, Roni, being left alone in her locked room whilst she was miscarrying. She was handed two sanitary towels. G4S took her to hospital a week and a half later
  • Restraint routinely used on children who failed to follow orders – TWO YEARS AFTER the Court of Appeal declared such treatment was unlawful
  • Another 15 year-old girl, Lela, was physically attacked by an officer who slammed her head repeatedly down onto icy ground
  • Verbal abuse by staff
  • Male officers entering girls’ cells without knocking on their doors, including when they were in the shower
  • The centre director, Ben Saunders, “must have known what was going on through the complaints and everything”
  • G4S Director of Children’s Services, Paul Cook, having a long history of bullying and threatening staff.

G4S pre-empted the Guardian revelations by an hour or so, by announcing it is selling “its UK Children’s Services business, comprising 13 children’s homes and its contracts to manage two Secure Training Centres at Medway and Oakhill”. The international security firm does not say how many children it expects to hand over during this process.

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, responds:

“Children are not chattel to be sold on. Today’s serious child abuse allegations are extremely upsetting and shocking but they have not come out of the blue. Two children have died*; the courts have found widespread unlawful restraint; inspectors have found abuse; and undercover filming has shown the systemic nature of the abuse. Many of us have been saying for years that children were not safe in secure training centres. It cannot be right, legally or morally, for an organisation to be facing such grave allegations to be allowed any say about who should in future take care of the children it has been paid to look after. Secure training centres must close. Then we need a proper inquiry into child abuse in prisons, so we can learn how and why so many children were failed for so long.”

*One of these children, Gareth Myatt, died following restraint in G4S-run Rainsbrook secure training centre in April 2004. The other child, Adam Rickwood, hanged himself hours after being restrained in Serco-run Hassockfield secure training centre in August 2004.

Therapeutic intervention rated by children and young people

Evaluation of the NSPCC’s therapeutic work with children and young people aged 8 to 17 years shows many positive outcomes.

Children reported liking their worker; felt their worker was on their side; and believed they were working together positively to deal with problems in the child’s life.

The intervention is called Letting the Future In and is designed to assist children in their recovery from sexual abuse. The children included in this sample (128) received an average of 16 individual sessions and a further four sessions jointly with their ‘safe carer’ (70% of whom were mothers). Direct work also takes place separately with carers.

A control group of 114 children, on the waiting list for the intervention, allowed comparisons to be made. The research report indicates the large control group makes this “the largest randomised controlled trial of a therapeutic intervention for child sexual abuse ever undertaken”.

Older children (8-17) who received therapeutic interventions were found to have significantly lower levels of anxiety, trauma and dissociation* than those on the waiting list, at the six-month mark. Interestingly, a low proportion (more than 15%) of children reported feeling angry at the start of the work, and the same number remained angry at the six-month mark.

However, there were no significant changes for young children (aged below eight) who received the interventions, compared with those who had been on the waiting list.

The independent research report can be found here.

* “a conscious or unconscious disruption in a person’s awareness, feelings, thoughts, behaviour and memories in order to reduce psychological distress”

Deaths in child prisons

As the government prepares its plans for secure schools, it must surely be considering the tremendous harm caused to children by imprisonment across the decades.

One such indicator is the number of children who have died in prisons. Data recently released by the Ministry of Justice shows 52 children died in young offender institutions (and their previous incarnations) between 1978 and 2015.

In addition, two children died in 2004 in the newest type of child prison, the secure training centre. The first secure training centre was Medway, in Kent, which opened in April 1998 and is run by G4S. Five weeks ago, a BBC Panorama programme showed serious mental and physical abuse of children there, captured by undercover recording.

So that’s 54 children who have lost their lives in British prisons in the past 40 years. The Youth Justice Board’s analysis of 16 of these deaths, occurring between 2000 and 2012, found at least 69% of the children had been subject to Care Orders. This is the highest form of protection the state offers to children.

Furthermore, an analysis of the 38 deaths of young adults (aged 18-21) in custody between 2008 and 2012 found 37% had previously been incarcerated as children.