The Howard League for Penal Reform has slammed the government’s decision to allow private security companies running child jails to continue using pain on children.
The charity condemned the practice of inflicting pain on children as young as 12 in custody in order to secure compliance. It said that this was likely to put children in danger, teach them that violence pays and could result in serious injury or even death, as has already happened with two children.
Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said today: “These young children imprisoned in the four privately run jails are 'Baby P' who survived; they have been abused and neglected and are frightened and angry. For staff to use physical force thousands of times is a terrible admission of failure that has been roundly condemned by the United Nations.”
“These are closed and secret institutions where children are vulnerable and need added protection and expert guidance. Instead, barely trained staff are given sweeping powers to inflict pain and use physical force that is certainly counter-productive and possibly criminal.”
The Howard League for Penal Reform legal team has represented hundreds of children in custody. Children are telling the charity that staff have been deliberately provoking them into losing their tempers so that physical restraint can be used. Others have said staff use physical intervention for their own gratification.
The Howard League for Penal Reform released figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act to show that physical restraint was used 2,729 times on 227 children in the year up to June 2008. Secure Training Centres account for nearly half of all injuries due to restraint despite holding less than 10% of the juvenile population.
The Howard League for Penal Reform commissioned Lord Carlile QC to undertake an independent review of the use of restraint on children in custody in 2006. He subsequently held a debate in the House of Lords which secured a promise to review the issue. The charity said today that it was a scandal that the review had failed to deal with the wider issues of conflict resolution, staff skills and training and the behavioural needs of the children.