Category: Secure accommodation

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.

Yet more reductions in secure children’s homes

The Youth Justice Board has announced today that it plans to reduce by 15% the number of places it funds in secure children’s homes, from 138 to 117 places.

This is a 47% reduction since 2009, when the Youth Justice Board contracted 220 places.

In September 2015, 70% of detained children were held in young offender institutions; 20% were held in secure training centres run by G4S; and just 11% were in secure children’s homes.

Secure children’s homes are governed by the same legislation as ordinary children’s homes. They have much higher staff to child ratios than young offender institutions, which are run by the prison service and by G4S (which operates Parc in Wales). The law requires that managers of secure children’s homes have appropriate experience, qualifications and skills, and they must ensure their staff group can “meet the needs of each child”. No such legal duties apply to young offender institutions and secure training centres. Moreover, the law sets out robust standards that must be followed by each home, and children are given greater protection from the routine use of physical restraint (it is not permitted because a child fails to follow orders, for example, as is the case in young offender institutions). The infliction of severe pain as a form of restraint is prohibited in secure children’s homes.

One secure children’s home is run by a charity; the remainder are run by local authorities.

This announcement comes a fortnight after the chief inspector of prisons found “deeply disturbing” use of restraint in child prisons and “little cultural change” since a new system of restraint was introduced in 2013 following the deaths of two boys, Gareth Myatt and Adam Rickwood, in 2004 in secure training centres.

In October, the Office of Children’s Commissioner for England urged  “the decommissioning of young offender institutions and their replacement with smaller establishments with higher staff to child ratios based closer to the child’s family and community”.

Just last week, the Chief Executive of the Youth Justice Board, Lin Hinnigan, was reported to have told a conference of youth justice workers that they should be able to provide interventions which are “personalised and responsive to each [child’s] developmental, health and wellbeing needs” in children’s neighbourhoods and communities “rather than part of a prison service”.

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, responds:

“This further disinvestment in secure children’s homes props up a dangerous and discredited prison system. Young offender institutions are much cheaper to run than secure children’s homes, because they are places of punishment where children languish in locked cells with only an hour a day in the fresh air at best. When a child’s behaviour and circumstances have got to such a point that he or she cannot, for the time being, live freely within the community, we should not be surprised that specialised care comes with a high price tag.”

Sexual abuse in child custody and residential schools

The Goddard Inquiry has announced that the sexual abuse of children in custodial institutions, and the sexual abuse of children in residential schools, will form two of its first 12 investigations.

The scope of the custodial investigation is summarised as follows:

“The Inquiry will investigate the nature and extent of, and institutional responses to, the sexual abuse of children in custodial institutions, including Secure Children’s Homes, Secure Training Centres, Youth Offender Institutions, and their precursor institutions (‘custodial institutions’). The investigation shall incorporate case specific investigations and a review of information available from published and unpublished reports and reviews, court cases, and previous investigations in relation to the abuse of children in custodial institutions.”

Medomsley detention centre, in Durham, will be one of this investigation’s case studies. Run by the Home Office between 1961 and 1987, Medomsley detained 17 to 21 year-olds. The first reports of physical abuse emerged in 1967, when a mother contacted her local MP. Today, Durham police is investigating 1,240 complaints of abuse by former inmates.

The scope of the residential schools investigation is summarised as follows:

“The Inquiry will investigate the nature and extent of, and institutional responses to, child sexual abuse in residential schools, including schools in the state and independent sectors and schools for children with disabilities and/or special educational needs. The inquiry will incorporate case specific investigations, a review of information available from published and unpublished reports and reviews, court cases, and investigations, and a consideration of the Inquiry’s own commissioned research.”

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, comments:

“We very much welcome the inclusion of custody and residential schools within the Inquiry’s first investigations. There is so much to be acknowledged about the abuse of children in these environments. The investigation on sexual abuse in custody is particularly significant because this will involve robust, independent scrutiny of the actions – and inactions – of those working in central government, including within the prison service.”     

16 year-olds can be placed in secure accommodation

The High Court has confirmed that a 16 or 17 year-old who is being looked after by a local authority under Section 20(3) of the Children Act 1989 can, in principle, be admitted to secure accommodation.

Section 20(3) places a duty on local authorities to accommodate a child who has reached the age of 16 and whose welfare would be seriously prejudiced without such accommodation. The 1989 Act defines a child as a person under the age of 18.

Regulations relating to secure accommodation – children’s homes which deprive children in care of their liberty – specify that this kind of provision cannot be used with children and young people aged between 16 and 21 years, who have been placed in a children’s home as a means of safeguarding or promoting their welfare. However, this relates to Section 20(5) of the 1989 Act, which gives local authorities discretionary powers to accommodate young people into early adulthood.

The case before the High Court concerned a 16 year-old who was at that time detained in a mental health setting due to severe self-harm. The local authority sought clarification of their legal power to apply for a secure accommodation order once she was released from hospital, given she was now aged 16. The girl had been accommodated by the local authority since the age of 14.

Judge Bellamy said local authorities would be permitted to apply for a secure accommodation order in respect of 16 and 17 year-olds looked after under Section 20(3). So once the girl is released from hospital, the local authority can seek to place her in a secure children’s home.

There were 82 children held in secure accommodation on welfare grounds in England and Wales on 31 March 2015.

Read the judgment here.