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UK: MoJ challenged to release details of child restraint in prisons

Demand follows evidence pain-inducing techniques were often used in non-emergencies

A children’s rights charity is challenging the refusal of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to release information showing the reasons why children in prison have suffered pain-inducing restraint, the Guardian has learned.

The challenge follows a spate of inspection reports on children’s prisons that showed the restraint techniques were frequently used in non-emergency situations, or to make children follow orders.

Last year, the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse said these techniques were a form of child abuse that must be prohibited by law.

In May last year, Carolyne Willow, the director of the children’s rights charity Article 39, submitted a freedom of information request to the MoJ. She asked for the recorded reasons for 260 uses of pain-inducing restraint, known as “managing and minimising physical restraint” (MMPR) in eight young offender institutions (YOIs) and secure training centres (STCs) in 2017-18.

The MoJ refused her request, stating such records were not held centrally and the cost of obtaining the information would be prohibitive.

In September, Willow complained to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) about the refusal of the MoJ to supply the information. She quoted from the MoJ’s safeguarding manual, as it applies to the use of MMPR. This states that the use of MMPR is reviewed by the national team. Willow argued that, therefore, the information must be held centrally.

Last month, she was informed the ICO had upheld the refusal of the MoJ to supply the information and accepted it did not hold this information centrally.

Article 39 will take the case against the MoJ to a first-tier tribunal.

Earlier this month, prison inspectors reported a fall in the use of pain-inducing techniques at Cookham Wood young offenders’ institution, in Kent, but noted its use was often inappropriate. In six of the eight YOIs and STCs, in England and Wales, inspectors found it was used to “gain compliance”.

In 2018, the Guardian reported MoJ figures showed that in the previous year, there were 97 incidents in which young offenders showed signs of asphyxiation or other danger signs after being restrained, and four serious physical injuries that resulted in hospitalisation.

In 2016, the Guardian revealed that an internal risk assessment of restraint techniques had found that certain procedures approved for use against non-compliant children in custody carried a 40-60% chance of causing injuries affecting the child’s breathing or circulation, the consequences of which could be “catastrophic”.

A year ago, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse said these techniques are a form of child abuse which must be prohibited by law. The government has yet to respond to that recommendation.

Article 39’s director, Carolyne Willow, said these techniques have no place in the care of children, and should have been banned a long time ago. She said it was unbelievable the MoJ collects statistics on how often they are used but apparently not why.

She added: “If the safeguarding policy is being followed, the data should be to hand and must be released. Alternatively, if there is no central review of the reasons why officers are causing severe pain to children, then the department should explain when and why it stopped following its own published policy and how it is meeting its duty of care and human rights obligations towards children without such monitoring,” she said.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “As stated in our freedom of information response, which was upheld on appeal by the information commissioner, we collect information on restraint but do not hold the specific level of detail requested in this case centrally.

“Restraint is only used as a last resort to prevent someone hurting themselves or others and we are looking closely at its use. That is why we have asked Charlie Taylor to conduct an in-depth review of pain-inducing techniques which we will be responding to in the coming months.”

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