Letter: Why prisons should exercise restraint

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Sir: I am happy to accept the denial by the governor of Pentonville prison (letter, 9 August) that physical restraints are used on prisoners in his custody. However, far from being out-of-date, as he charges, the Prison Reform Trust figures referred to were taken from a written answer to a Parliamentary Question on 22 July 1993 and cover the previous 12 months.

Hansard reports that physical restraints - bodybelts, loose canvas jackets, handcuffs, ankle straps and leather wrist straps - were used on 194 occasions in the prison service as a whole. Pentonville is cited as using them on 18 occasions.

The table also shows that five prisons (Brixton, Feltham, Wormwood Scrubs, Full Sutton and Pentonville) used restraints more frequently than the remaining 125 prisons put together.

If the figures reported to Parliament are wrong, then they should be corrected. Indeed, if Pentonville (and the vast majority of jails) can cope perfectly well without physical restraints, this lends force to the view that their use in all prisons should be banned.

Nobody doubts the need for staff to be protected if prisoners are violent. However, if most jails can cope without relying on the bodybelt and similar instruments, what is it about the other prisons that makes them so different?

Yours faithfully,



Prison Reform Trust

London, N1

9 August