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.