Chris Grayling blasted over plans for 'Victorian-style' corporal punishment on young offenders


Senior Reporter

Chris Grayling’s plans to allow force to be used on children at new “secure colleges” for young offenders are illegal and must be changed immediately, an influential parliamentary committee warns today.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights said proposals in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill to allow authorised staff to use “reasonable force where necessary to ensure good order and discipline” was a clear breach of international standards.

Earlier this week the Justice Secretary unveiled detailed plans for an £85 million secure young offender unit in Leicestershire, which will hold up to 320 inmates between the ages of 12 and 17. He said it would put “education at the heart of custody” and would move away from the traditional approach of “bars on windows” when it opens in 2017.

But staff would be subject to the same rules laid out in the Bill, prompting Labour to urging ministers to scrap the “Victorian-style” proposals. MP John McDonnell has compared the proposed Leicestershire facility with the notorious private jail HMP Oakwood in Staffordshire, claiming it would become an “Oakwood for children” and lead to riots and assaults.

In a report published today, the cross-party committee said the idea that officials could use physical force on children to keep order in young offender institutions was unacceptable under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

“In our view, it is clear… that it is incompatible with Articles 3 and 8 ECHR for any law, whether primary or secondary legislation, to authorise the use of force on children and young people for the purposes of good order and discipline,” the report said.

An artist's impression of how the £85 million facility will look An artist's impression of how the £85 million facility will look
Committee chair Hywel Francis said the MPs were “disappointed” that the Government did not appear to have examined international standards on the rights of children before publishing its Bill.

“Perhaps as a result there are a number of issues relating to secure colleges in particular that need examination and amendment, including making clear that force cannot be used on children to secure ‘good order and discipline’,” he added.

Last night campaign groups welcomed the committee’s report and called on the Government to redraw the Bill so it did not sanction the use of force on children.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “MPs have recognised that allowing prison officers to restrain children violently, simply if they don’t follow orders, is illegal and will put lives at risk.

“It is symptomatic of the kind of institution that ministers are proposing – not a college with education at its heart, but a giant prison where human rights are infringed and physical violence becomes part of the rules.”

Paola Uccellari, director of the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, added: “Allowing prison officers to use force to make children behave themselves is dangerous and carries a risk of injury. The Government is putting children’s lives at risk by pushing ahead with its unlawful plans. It must listen to parliamentarians and remove these powers to use force from the Bill.”

In its report, the committee separately welcomed the Government’s clampdown on extreme pornography, including the criminalising of the possession of images depicting rape. It said the measure was “human rights-enhancing” due to the “cultural harm” that such material could do.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “The development of a Secure College is a pioneering approach to tackling the reoffending rates of young people, putting education at the heart of custody. This will give them a far better chance of getting out of the criminal justice system, and will mean much better value for money than just continuing to lock up the same young people time and again.

“We are clear that restraint should only be used against young people as a last resort where it is absolutely necessary to do so and where no other form of intervention is possible or appropriate.

“Significant improvements have been made to restraint practice in youth custody in recent years , including the introduction of a new independently assessed system of restraint. It is those improvements that we will build on as we develop our proposals for Secure Colleges.

“We will consider the recommendations made by the committee.”

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