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Thursday, 14 March 2013

MPs alarmed at rising use of force to restrain young offenders in detention

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Commons justice committee backs calls for independent inquiry after hearing of 254 cases involving injury

MPs have raised serious concerns about the rising use of force to restrain young offenders in detention last year.

The Commons justice select committee says that the use of restraint has now been definitively linked to the death of at least one teenager and endorses calls for an independent inquiry to ensure no further deaths.

The chairman of the committee, Sir Alan Beith, said they were also shocked to hear of evidence of children across Britain who have been effectively abandoned by children's and social services with devastating consequences.

The MPs' report, which is the result of a year-long inquiry into the youth justice system, reveals that 8,419 incidents of physical restraint were recorded in 2011/12 – up17% on the previous year.

The MPs say that the Office of Children's Commissioner found evidence in 2011 of a tendency in youth custody to focus on physical controls to manage risk and deal with challenging behaviour: "Restraint is supposed to be used as a last resort to prevent individuals from causing harm to themselves and to others.''

But the report says that 254 of the incidents led to injuries, 7% of which were serious.

The chief inspector of prisons found last year that 44% of young male black and Asian detainees had been physically restrained by staff compared with 32% of young white men.

Two teenagers have died in restraint-related incidents in privately run secure training centres. Adam Rickwood, 14, hanged himself in the Hassockfield centre in 2004. Gareth Myatt, 15, died in hospital in 2004, following a restraint incident at Rainsbrook centre.

An independent review of restraint with force found that it was "intrinsically unsafe" and a system to minimise its use while still allowing pain-inducing techniques was announced in July 2012. But it has yet to be implemented.

"It is matter of serious concern to us that, despite the fact that the use of force in restraining young offenders has now been definitively linked to the death of at least one young person in custody, the use of restraint rose considerably across the secure estate last year," concludeD the all-party committee.

"We welcome the fact that the new policy limits the use of force against young offenders but consider a more fundamental cultural shift is required," said the MPs, adding that they intend to keep a watching brief on the issue.

The report also says that it is unacceptable that vulnerable young people continue to die in custody and that 33 under-18s and a further 400 young adults have died since 1990.

The MPs say it is imperative that lessons are learned from such deaths to ensure they don't happen again: "This may require an independent inquiry into the deaths of young offenders and young adults in custody, as the Ministry of Justice is now considering."

Deborah Coles of Inquest, which provides advice and support to the bereaved in such cases, said: "What more compelling evidence does the government need to propel it into decisive action than the deaths of 67 young people in penal custody in the last 10 years.

"We repeat our call for an independent inquiry to learn from the failures across the youth justice and welfare systems that cost these vulnerable young people their lives."

The report looked at local authority secure homes, young offenders institutions and secure training centres.