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"Home Office inquiry team barred from privately run child prisons" by Alan Travis, The Guardian

2nd November 2005

A former Labour minister called for the contracts of two privately run child jails to be terminated yesterday after they refused access to a Home Office team investigating their use of physical restraint techniques on teenage inmates.  

"I understand that these two secure training centres did not provide admission to the consultants employed by the Home Office to carry out the review of physical control in care," said Ms Keeble. "In these circumstances, the contract with the private company responsible should be terminated because they have not demonstrated that they are able to provide a regime that is either appropriate for the staff, or safe for the young people."

Sally Keeble, Labour MP for Northampton North, told the Commons that the unpublished report from the inquiry team, which included medical experts, recommended that more than 20 restraint techniques currently in use be scrapped. She said physical control was routinely used in Britain's four secure training centres, designed to hold the most troublesome 10- to 17-year-olds.

The highest use of restraint was at two centres run by Rebound, a subsidiary of GSL Limited, one at Rainsbrook, near Daventry, Northamptonshire, and the other at Medway in Kent. The official review of physical control techniques was triggered by the death of Gareth Myatt, 15, in Rainsbrook in April last year.

Ministers have modified some of the restraint techniques but decided to ban the use of only one of them - the "seated double embrace" which was involved in Gareth Myatt's death.

Contrary to the unpublished recommendations of the review team, ministers have allowed the continued use of a painful "karate chop to the nose" technique and a "thumb distraction" method.

Ms Keeble told a Westminster Hall debate yesterday that the "nose distraction" put staff at the risk of being bitten, and "thumb distraction" involved an adult hand restraining a child's thumb and had the potential to cause more injury than other techniques.

"How on earth do we, in the 21st century, manage to run a regime for young people that includes an equivalent of thumb screws?" she asked MPs.

"In at least one of the institutions, in place of the seated embrace a standing hold is used. But children are still being bent over - and it is bending that is so dangerous because this is what prevents breathing. During the course of my investigations I actually have had some of these holds demonstrated on me, and once shown, the risks are evident."

Official figures showed that restraint was used 3,289 times in 2003 and 1,228 in the first few months of 2004 in the four secure training centres.

There are 274 places in all the centres, and 322 "trainees" went through Medway in 2003 and 289 through Rainsbrook. The average age of those sentenced to detention and training orders is 14, and half of them are unconvicted teenagers on remand awaiting trial.

Fiona Mactaggart, the Home Office minister, denied there was a routine use of physical restraint in the centres and said that only a "tiny minority" of such incidents involved inflicting pain.

"We need to protect other trainees and the staff themselves in potentially violent incidents. We need to have ways that we can distract children who are behaving dangerously," she told Ms Keeble.

But she admitted that staff were increasingly using handcuffs as an alternative to the physical control techniques. Ms Mactaggart also confirmed that restraint was being used to ensure the compliance of the trainees and not just to defuse potentially violent situations.

© The Guardian

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