Thousands of young people injured after being 'restrained' by officers

Exclusive: Ministers urged to rethink techniques for restraining minors after probe revealed more than 4,800 cases where children were hurt since 2010

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Monday 13 November 2017 01:34

Thousands of children and teenagers have been injured while being physically restrained in secure facilities, new figures have shown.

Ministers have been urged to rethink heavy-handed techniques for restraining minors after official statistics revealed there have been more than 4,800 cases since 2010 where young people were hurt by being pinned down by officials.

Campaigners said it was a “scandal” that officers are trained to deliberately inflict pain on teenagers in young offenders institutions and secure training centres, despite concern from two UN Committees over the practice.

It comes as the safety of using force in institutional settings was called into question when a long-awaited report on adult deaths in custody by Dame Elish Angiolini warned that “all restraint has the potential to cause death”.

Proposals to reform the use of restraint in mental health units also recently passed their first Commons hurdle when MPs backed a private members’ bill from Labour MP Steve Reed in memory of a man who died after being restrained by 11 officers.

Labour MP Luciana Berger, who obtained the figures, told The Independent: “It is clear that we urgently require more effective and rigorous legislation that allows further accountability around the use of physical restraint.

“The Government must take action to ensure that inhumane treatment of those in custody is prevented at all costs.

“The Government claims to be committed to prioritising the safety of young people in custody, but the number of injuries sustained by children through restraint since 2010 is shocking.

“The same applies to force used against people in mental health crises. Restraint should only ever be used as a last resort, and the protection of vulnerable people in situations such as this should be a guarantee, under all circumstances.”

Analysis of the figures found there were 49 cases in each secure training centre per year, on average, compared with 14 in specialist, locked children’s homes run by councils.

Carolyne Willow, director of children’s rights charity Article 39, told The Independent the figures raised “serious questions” about the safety of children detained in secure training centres.

She said: “Children in both settings are of similar ages and have the same types of vulnerabilities. So we have to ask why injuries are more than three times higher in secure training centres?

“One obvious area for investigation is the impact of training custody officers in secure training centres to deliberately inflict pain as a form of restraint.

“Staff in locked children’s homes are not allowed to deliberately hurt children, and they must follow the same professional standards as those who work in ordinary children’s homes.

“Successive ministers have been urged by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, the UN Committee Against Torture and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child to withdraw pain-inducing restraint methods in secure training centres and juvenile young offender institutions.

“It’s shameful these bodies had to make such recommendations, though even more of a scandal that they have yet to be acted upon.”

The figures do show that while overall figures are high, there has been a reduction since 2010 in the number of injuries in secure training centres, children’s homes and youth offending institutes.

Justice minister Dr Phillip Lee, who provided the figures through a parliamentary question, said restraint techniques had been specifically developed for use with children and young people in custody and officers would avoid physical restraint wherever possible.

He said: “The safety and welfare of young people held in custody is our highest priority.

“Restraint should only be used as a last resort, where there is a risk of harm to self or others, and no other form of intervention is possible or appropriate.”

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