Use of pain-inducing restraint increases in child prisons

Annual statistics showing the number of children in England and Wales entering prisons and secure children’s homes, and some of their experiences there, have been published today (28 January).

These show a significant rise in the overall use of pain-inducing restraint techniques since last year:

  • Up to the year ending March 2020, the thumb flexion, mandibular angle technique and wrist flexion were used 136 times (down from 251 times in 2018/19).
  • However, the inverted wrist hold, which the government conceded in June 2020 is another pain-inducing technique, increased significantly – from 4,506 uses in 2018/19 to 5,125 uses in 2019/20 (an increase of nearly 14%). This is despite a 9% reduction in the number of children in custody. This takes the total uses of pain-inducing techniques to 5,261 in 2019/20 (from 4,757 in 2018/19).
  • Article 39 has consistently maintained that the inverted wrist hold should be officially classed as a pain-inducing technique since children report feeling severe pain when it is applied. A review undertaken by Charlie Taylor (now the Chief Inspector of Prisons) concluded last year that the inverted wrist hold “has become a pain-inducing technique in all but name” and recommended its use be scrutinised like other pain-inducing techniques. In response, the government said, “As this technique can clearly cause a great deal of pain, we agree it should be subject to the same level of scrutiny as those techniques which are officially designated as being pain-inducing”. Part of this detailed scrutiny must include recording the use of inverted wrist hold under the correct ‘pain-inducing’ category.

Other data shows:

  • 29% of children in custody subject to the use of force in 2019/20 were officially recorded as disabled (up from 24% in 2018/19).
  • There were 45 incidents in 2019/20 where a child required medical treatment after restraint; in two instances children had to be taken to hospital afterwards (from Feltham and Wetherby juvenile young offender institutions respectively). In addition, there were 251 incidents where a warning sign was recorded during restraint – such signs include breathing difficulties, loss of consciousness and vomiting.
  • Handcuffs were used on children during use of force incidents 1,189 times in 2019/20 (up from 1,144 times in 2018/19).
  • The officially recorded reason for use of restraint on children was ‘passive non-compliance’ in juvenile young offender institutions on 259 separate occasions in 2019/20 (up from 254 incidents in 2018/19).
  • Children in custody suffered 627 injuries requiring medical treatment after self-harm in 2019/20. 69 of these injuries required hospital treatment (up from 39 in 2018/19).

Carolyne Willow, Article 39’s Director, said:

“Behind today’s statistics are hundreds of highly vulnerable children who are distressed, anxious, fearful and angry, and a prison system that simply cannot meet their needs. Four years ago, the government committed to phasing out juvenile young offender institutions and secure training centres yet we are still awaiting a closure programme and strategy to make it happen.

“That techniques which inflict pain on children were used 5,261 times last year across eight institutions either run directly by the state, or contracted by government, is a stain on our system of child protection. If adults deliberately hurting children is wrong in families, schools and children’s homes, then it must be wrong for children in prison too. We cannot have a two-tier system of child protection.”

The Annual Youth Justice Statistics can be found here (the detailed data is in the supplementary tables).