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Secure Training Centres: Physical Restraint

Volume 706: debated on Tuesday 13 January 2009

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they have taken in response to the Court of Appeal judgment of 18 July quashing the amendment rules about the use of restraint in secure training centres holding juveniles aged 12 to 17.

My Lords, the effect of the court’s decision is to remove the legal authority for custody officers to remove trainees at secure training centres from association with other trainees, or to use physical restraint, for the purpose of ensuring good order and discipline at the centre. The Youth Justice Board has advised secure training centres on the implications of the court’s ruling.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and welcome the involvement of the Department for Children, Schools and Families. Does she agree that the Appeal Court not only ruled against widening the grounds for using force against young people but actually implied that there should be a reduction? When does she expect the number of occasions when force is used to fall? The Youth Justice Board has just reported figures for the third quarter of 2008 showing that force was used in secure training centres 510 times, a 30 per cent increase on the preceding quarter.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her Question and congratulate her on the passion and tenacity that she has brought to raising awareness of her concerns about the use of restraint in the secure youth estate. Coinciding with the court decision that she refers to, the Government were considering a review of the use of restraint in juvenile secure settings. Combined with those judgments and the review, the Government have announced an overview of the use of restraint in juvenile secure settings. Many of the review’s recommendations were aimed at reducing the use of restraint and, in accepting those recommendations, the Government have the aspiration that the use of force should fall.

My Lords, the Minister will know that the background to this change in the amendment rules was the coroners’ reports on the deaths of two children in secure training centres following restraint. What specific changes are being made to the contracts and risk-assessment training of STC staff who restrain children? Further, what have the Government done to establish the mandatory accreditation scheme for all restraint-techniques training and trainers, as recommended by the independent review and with which they have announced their agreement?

My Lords, first, on the contracts, the provisions to make these changes are already there. We have accepted the recommendation that all staff in the secure estate should have consistent and comprehensive training in the awareness of risk factors in restraint, the monitoring of warning signs in young people and the need to take action quickly. The Government have accepted these recommendations, and the National Offender Management Service is developing a new control and restraint technique, called for in the report, which is specifically appropriate for use with young people.

My Lords, has a decision been taken on the future of Oakhill secure training centre, considering that the recommendation to close it was made by the chief inspector last March?

My Lords, I am advised that there have been significant improvements at Oakhill in particular. However, noble Lords should be reassured that there will be another independent inspection of the institution soon and we will be able to look at an independent assessment of the Youth Justice Board’s view that significant improvements have been made.

My Lords, is there not a colossal irony in this situation in that, as has already been referred to, the problem arose in 2004 when a 15 year-old boy died directly in consequence of restraint and a 14 year-old boy died from suicide indirectly in consequence of restraint? Rather than accepting the blameworthiness of the institutions concerned, the Secretary of State for Justice sought to legitimise the conduct which had caused those deaths in that he sought to elongate the law enabling pain and violence to be used as a means of controlling persons, some of them as young as 12 years old. In the circumstances, will the rules and the code of practice be gone over with a fine toothcomb to make certain that such uncivilised behaviour is not allowed to be part of the care of children in these institutions?

My Lords, I do not entirely accept that analysis. It is extremely difficult for us gathered here in the House of Lords to imagine that it would be appropriate to use pain to control the behaviour of young people in a secure institution. We have called for, and had, a detailed, independent review of the rules. The recommendations are far-reaching. The Government have accepted almost all of them. We are committed to an overhaul of the use of restraint in secure settings.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the review to which she referred caused widespread disappointment because it failed dismally to call for a very substantial reduction in the use of restraint in custody? Will she confirm that in future the issue of physical restraint will be part of all staff appraisals and performance reviews throughout the custodial setting for juveniles?

My Lords, I cannot accept that the report did not call for a reduction. A number of recommendations within the review are about reducing the use of restraint. We have asked the independent authors whether they will act as independent monitors of the implementation of those recommendations. That is important. We are expecting the entire workforce in the juvenile setting to be retrained to have a full understanding of the risk factors and the warning signs, and for that to be driven home to staff. The report is very important, important developments have occurred and we are promoting change.