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Government called to end use of pain compliance techniques and solitary confinement of detained children

A report produced by the UK Parliament’s Human Rights Committee has concluded that the Government has been in contravention of the Human Rights Act by sanctioning both the use of restraint techniques which induce pain and the solitary confinement of children in detention. The committee has called for an end to such practices.

The committee considered the arrangements currently in place to manage escalated behaviours presented by those children in detention.

The evidence covered the treatment of around 2,500 children who are detained in various settings, including Tier 4 Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) units, Assessment and Treatment Units (ATUs) in which children with autism and learning disabilities are held, Youth Offenders’ Institutes (YOIs), Secure Training Centres (STCs); and Secure Children’s Homes (SCHs).

The children in the cohort include some of the most vulnerable in society, who have been brought up in some of the most complex and challenging environments. They are held in such settings for a variety of reasons, some for care, treatment or welfare reasons, and some because of criminal offences.

The committee took evidence from individuals with medical experience, inspectors, lawyers, human rights charities and staff who work in the aforementioned settings.

In evidence, The Howard League for Penal Reform relayed a child’s experience of a wrist hold designed to induce pain: “… he was then escorted back to his room by several members of staff and while they were walking this member of staff ‘bent my wrists all the way back’ … he said to them, ‘what are you doing to my wrists, it’s hurting, stop that’ … the staff members said nothing but pushed his wrists back harder … his wrists ‘hurt a lot’, and ‘still hurt’ at the time of the call.”

The Standing Committee for Youth Justice wrote that the mandibular angle technique (applying pressure to a point at the base of the jaw) “delivers a sharp and very unpleasant pain, recallable at several years’ distance” The committee concluded that such methods were more than a distraction, having the potential for significant distress at the time, in subsequent hours and even in the longer-term.

Chair of the Committee Harriet Harman MP said, “The UK is under international and domestic legal obligations to ensure that children are not subject to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”

These situations engage rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR): Article 2, the right to life; Article 3, the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment; Article 5, the right to liberty and security; Article 8, respect for private and family life.

Ms Harman continued, “The Government must comply with its legal obligations and ensure that children in detention are not subject to solitary confinement or unnecessary or disproportionate uses of restraint.”

The report’s conclusions included the following:

  • the use of restraint for the purposes of ‘discipline and good order’ in Youth Offenders Institutes (YOIs) must be prohibited in all but the most exceptional circumstances*;
  • the use of prone (face-down) restraint is distressing, potentially dangerous, and its use as anything but a last resort is not compliant with human rights standards for children;
  • the use of separation from normal human contact is harmful to children if used for more than a few hours at a time, and it can amount to inhumane or degrading treatment that is a breach of children’s rights

Lee Hollins, BILD/ RRN

* There was no qualification on how to interpret such “circumstances” contained in the report, however the committee stated “We also recognise the right of prison officers to act in self-defence and we are aware that these issues are currently subject to review”