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Prisons: Young Offenders

Volume 720: debated on Wednesday 21 July 2010

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the techniques in the HM Prison Service manual Physical Control in Care are applicable to young offenders in privately run prisons.

My Lords, Physical Control in Care was a system of restraint techniques approved for use in secure training centres in circumstances where the risks arising from young people’s behaviour could not be dealt with by any other means.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for answering the Question. Of course these young offenders can be very difficult people—otherwise they would not be detained—but does he realise that many of us were shocked that this secret manual indicated that it was permissible to inflict pain on young people, some of them as young as 12, in circumstances that led to at least one inquest saying that this represented an unjustified use of force? Would not the right course be to withdraw this document and to produce something publicly that is more humane?

My Lords, since the document was published in 2005, the Government have had a thorough review of it and are in the process of producing new guidelines on restraint and behaviour management designed to replace the existing document. The new system will be assessed by medical and other experts on the new restraint accreditation board. In the mean time, as I said, a new version of the manual is being drawn up and will take account of the changes that have taken place since 2005.

My Lords, although the manual is going to be revised, it is currently in use, including, theoretically, on children as young as 12 who are the most damaged and difficult in our society. Is my noble friend aware that the advice given is that, in extremis, a member of staff can drive his fingers straight into the young person’s face and then quickly drive the straightened fingers of the same hand downwards into the young person’s groin area? A great deal is wrong and I hope that the Minister will agree that what is needed is proper, adequate, suitable and relevant training and not this kind of restraint.

I can assure my noble friend that suitable, adequate and proper training is exactly what is under way. It has been suggested, particularly in the media, that some of these techniques were in general use. The techniques are for when an unarmed officer is under attack. I have looked at the manual and at some of the techniques highlighted by the media. On almost every occasion, the last line is: “The member of staff exits”. These are not techniques to inflict pain on young people; they are techniques to enable unarmed, unprotected members of staff who under attack, often by large and quite violent young people—we use the word “children” very casually—to escape from those situations.

My Lords, in view of the considerable concern that has been expressed about these techniques, which have been used even quite recently, will the Minister undertake to ensure, while the review is under way, that a report is made to Parliament of every incident that takes place?

No, I do not think that I can do that. There are regular reports and there is a body that reviews these incidents. I share some of the concern, but we are talking about 3 per cent of young people who are put into custody. As I emphasised in response to a question the other day, this is very much a last resort. The number of people going into custody has fallen dramatically in recent years—I pay tribute to the Front Bench opposite for what it achieved—but we also have a duty of care, both to the staff who deal with these often very violent young people and to other inmates, who may themselves be the subject of attack. I have committed to visit two of the institutions, to look at them and to talk to the staff. As I said, a thorough review has taken place and a new manual will be published imminently.

My Lords, the Minister said “published”. The guidelines were not published; it took three years of freedom of information action to try to get them out. Is he really saying that,

“Application of severe pain to the thumb”,

and,

“Staff raking their shoe down a child’s shin onto their instep”,

is the behaviour of a civilised society? I was deeply shocked by this and I continue to be so. I sincerely hope that we go back to the old common-law doctrine of minimum force, as opposed to these actions, which sound like those of a pub brawl and nothing less.

Minimum force is the guidance. The opportunity to treat young people in different ways is being explored. The institutions concerned have had the highest recommendations from Ofsted. Nobody is more enthusiastic about freedom of information than I am, but is it really in the public interest for a manual such as this to be available for distribution on the internet and for people to look at these techniques, which, as I said, are used in extremis by staff under threat of physical danger? We have approached this matter, as did the previous Administration, with due responsibility. We have taken note of what has happened since 2005 and acted on it.