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Last Updated: Friday, 7 March 2008, 07:11 GMT
Restraints on children 'must end'
Teenagers
The UN says pain should not be used as a form of control
There must be an end to painful restraint methods used on children in custody, MPs and peers have demanded.

There is no excuse for the "unacceptable" use of violence on children as young as 12, the Joint Human Rights Committee said.

Its report on privately run detention facilities said changes to guidance effectively gave staff free rein to use violence to enforce discipline.

The Ministry of Justice said it was reviewing the use of restraints.

'Sanctioned violence'

The report on four detention facilities in England for children aged between 12 and 17 found restraint techniques were used about 3,000 times a year - equivalent to 10 times per child.

Restraint should only be used to prevent injury to the trainee or others or to prevent escape
John Dismore,
Joint Human Rights Committee chairman

The committee's chairman, Andrew Dismore, said that although he recognised the challenges faced by staff at Secure Training Centres (STCs), the state has a "duty" to protect children in its care from violence.

He said: "What is in effect state-sanctioned infliction of pain against children to ensure 'good order and discipline' should not continue.

"Restraint should only be used to prevent injury to the trainee or others or to prevent escape."

But the Ministry of Justice said there was a clear distinction between the severity of the types of techniques used.

A spokeswoman said the 3,000 figure referred to "restraint techniques" which are not intended to cause pain.

She said the techniques could be as mild as putting an arm around someone to hold them back.

These are different from the more severe methods known as "distraction techniques" which are intended to inflict pain, she added.

Blasts of pain

The sanctioned distraction techniques involve bending an offender's thumb back or jabbing them in the lower ribs.

The ministry spokeswoman said these had been used 169 times between February 2006 and March 2007 and only when an offender was being violent.

She said the independent review "will examine the whole question of the operation of restraint in secure training centres and indeed in children's homes and youth offender institutions.

"Force is only ever used as a last resort. However, behaviour in secure training centres can be very violent and staff need appropriate and effective methods to contain and resolve dangerous situations."

As far as we are concerned there are still methods of restraint that are painful and that can be psychological damaging
Deborah Coles, Inquest

But the committee found that the sanctioned techniques in effect contravened governmental assurances that it "does not sanction violence against children".

It suggested the techniques also flew in the face of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child which has stated that restraint "should not involve the deliberate infliction of pain as a form of control".

In December the government suspended two techniques following the inquests into the deaths in custody of two teenage boys.

One of the banned practices, classed as a distraction technique, involved a jab to the septum under the nose.

The other, a restraint technique, involves holding someone with their arms crossed behind their back.

Adam Rickwood, 14, killed himself in 2004 shortly after the former was used on him.

In the same year, 15-year-old Gareth Myatt died after three officers held him in another type of restraint method known as a "seated double embrace".

Deborah Coles, of Inquest, a pressure group that campaigns on behalf of the families of those who die in custody, said there needed to be a sea-change in the culture surrounding use of restraint techniques in STCs.

She told the BBC News website: "All you need to do is look at the deaths. As far as we are concerned there are still methods of restraint that are painful and that can be psychological damaging.

"What you need is to have a very, very different culture operating where you are working with the needs of the children."

Frances Crook, from the Howard League for Penal Reform, said young detainees were often unused to complying with instructions - and staff would respond by hitting them.

"These are children who have usually come from backgrounds where they have been physically abused, where they have experienced violence - sometimes sexual abuse, as well," she said.



VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
How 'distraction techniques' work



SEE ALSO
Inquiry call over custody death
14 Nov 07 |  Lancashire
Review needed after boy's death
18 Jul 07 |  England
Guard tells of youth jail death
07 Mar 07 |  Northamptonshire

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