Legal challenge ends routine use of adult restraint techniques on children at Feltham prison

By agency reporter
September 6, 2018

The Howard League for Penal Reform has been successful in its legal challenge to stop adult restraint techniques being used routinely on children at a prison in west London.

The case was brought by the Howard League on behalf of a boy, identified in court documents as ‘ZY’, who had a background of abuse, mental health problems and complex needs. The boy was 16 years old when he was restrained on several occasions in the segregation unit in the adult part of Feltham prison by staff without appropriate training on restraint of children.

The High Court has approved an order setting out what the Secretary of State for Justice will do to prevent children in Feltham prison from being restrained by officers only trained in adult restraint techniques. The action points include a timetable for arrangements to be put in place.

The plan includes ceasing to hold children alongside young adults in the segregation unit, a practice which has been repeatedly criticised by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons.  The Secretary of State for Justice has agreed that a reprofiling exercise will be carried out as soon as possible and be completed within one year, and that the adult segregation unit will no longer be used for children by 10 December. The court gave the Howard League permission to judicially review practices at Feltham in June. The case was due to be heard in November.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This case is illustrative of endemic problems at Feltham. As the Chief Inspector pointed out earlier this year, the segregation unit at Feltham is grim and unsuitable for children. It is wholly unacceptable that children detained there, and elsewhere in Feltham, are at risk of being physically restrained by officers using techniques designed to manhandle grown men.

“It is therefore absolutely right that the Secretary of State has agreed to bring these practices to an end instead of defending this case in court, although it is deplorable that it has taken a legal challenge to secure these changes.”

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 14 and 15, 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 currently 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 highlighted a number of examples where ZY was forcibly restrained by staff not trained in MMPR and using adult and other unauthorised restraint techniques.

* The Howard League for Penal Reform


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