Private prisons illegally restrain children

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The Independent Online

Juveniles in private prisons are at risk of serious injury or death through the use of illegal restraints, according to research by the penal reform charity the Howard League.

Some privately run Secure Training Centres (STC) are using unlawful restraints which have resulted in bruising, broken bones and a number of deaths of under 18s in penal custody, according to researchers.

The report from Howard League lawyers documents the daily violence the juveniles have faced while they have been in custody.

A 15-year-old boy in a STC said in evidence given to a Howard League lawyer: "I had bruised shoulders from when one of the staff dragged me across the room and shoved me into the wall. I had bruising on my back from where I was slammed into the wall in my cell."

The report reveals that there were 142 injuries to children recorded as a result of the restraint of boys in prisons between April 2008 and March 2009.

Lord Carlile of Berriew QC is holding a series of public hearings in the House of Lords into the policies and practices of using force on children in custody.

In an independent inquiry into the use of physical restraint in 2006, Lord Carlile recommended that it should never be used as punishment or to secure compliance. He added that the infliction of pain was not acceptable and may be unlawful.

The report, Twisted: the Use of Force on Children in Custody, comes after the death of 14-year-old Adam Rickwood who was found hanging in his cell in 2004 after being restrained by staff at Hassockfield STC in County Durham. At a second inquest into his death, held at Easington earlier this year, a jury found that the unlawful use of force by staff had contributed to it.

A secret manual published by the Ministry of Justice that was publicly disclosed after legal action in 2010 shows that staff were authorised to use pain-inflicting distraction techniques on the thumbs, ribs and noses of children.

According to the Youth Justice Board, 6,904 incidents of restraint were reported between 2009-10 in England and Wales, 257 of which resulted in injury. However, the report highlights that statistics are likely to underestimate the extent to which physical restraint is used, as not all incidents are recorded.

Frances Crook, director of the Howard League, said: "These shadowy private companies who profit from children being locked up have disguised their methods of painful holds on children for years. It is time we revealed what is really happening."

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