Howard League given permission to challenge use of adult restraint practices on children

By agency reporter
June 27, 2018

The Howard League for Penal Reform has been granted permission to challenge the use of adult restraint techniques on children at a prison in West London.

The charity has applied successfully for permission to judicially review practices at Feltham prison. The case is brought on behalf of a boy who was 16 years old when he was restrained by staff without appropriate training on restraint of children.

The boy, identified in court documents as ‘ZY’, had a background of abuse, mental health problems and complex needs. A date for the hearing, which is to be heard at the High Court in London, will be set in due course.

Feltham is the only prison in England and Wales that routinely permits officers who are trained only in adult restraint techniques to restrain children – in spite of the fact that doing so is potentially dangerous and in breach of the Secretary of State for Justice’s policies.

The system of restraint for children in custody is known as Minimisation and Management of Physical Restraint (MMPR). It emphasises the importance of using de-escalation strategies and only permits restraint using specifically approved ‘holds’.

MMPR was introduced following an extensive review of the use of force against children, which came after two boys, aged 16 and 14, died in custody in 2004.

An independent review in 2008 had raised serious concerns about the use of adult restraint techniques – known as control and restraint – on children, concluding that “with its emphasis on coercion and pain compliance, [it] reinforces the very culture of danger and violence in YOIs in which it operates”.

A three-year implementation period for introducing MMPR in prisons began in 2012. Training in MMPR began at Feltham in July 2015 and it was supposed to ‘go live’ in February 2016. More than two years later, not all staff who may be called upon to restrain children are trained in MMPR.

Feltham prison is a ‘split site’, accommodating children on one side (the ‘A’ side) and young adults on the other (‘B’). The segregation unit is used to accommodate both adults and children, and is located in Feltham B, the adult site. Staff working in the segregation unit are not all trained in MMPR, despite it holding some of the most vulnerable children at Feltham. Officers from Feltham B are also deployed to work on other parts of the Feltham A site.

The case brought by the Howard League highlights a number of examples where ZY was forcibly restrained by staff not trained in MMPR and using adult and other unauthorised restraint techniques.

Laura Janes, Legal Director at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “When two children lost their lives in custody after being restrained, the government response was to introduce a whole new approach to the use of force on children.

“The new approach included specialist training emphasising the need to avoid restraint altogether where children are concerned. Yet, 14 years on, adult restraint techniques are still being used on children in spite of the risks.”

* The Howard League for Penal Reform https://howardleague.org/

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