Brutal guide to punishing jailed youths

A report obtained by the Observer newspaper reveals some of  the approved techniques used for the physical restraint of young people in UK jails and secure training centres. The practice guide was issued by HM Prison Service in 2005 and it has been the subject of numerous freedom of information requests, which were denied.

The manual on the use of physical restraint techniques reveals that the deliberate infliction of pain is sanctioned as a method for use on young people as young as 12. The following are approved techniques:

Use an inverted knuckle into the trainee’s sternum and drive inward and upward.

Continue to carry alternate elbow strikes to the young person’s ribs until a release is achieved.

Drive straight fingers 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.

The use of restraint techniques  in secure training centres in England and Wales has been the subject of sustained criticism, following the death in custody of 15-year-old Gareth Myatt, of asphyxia caused during a restraint in Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre in April 2004.  Another young person, Adam Rickwood died in Hassockfield Secure Training Centre in August of the same year after taking his own life.  Adam Rickwood’s death was linked to the use of restraint, he had been restrained using a technique known as ‘nose distraction’. He bled for an hour and six hours later he hung himself. The inquest into Adam’s death did not find staff in the centre directly responsible for his death, but the coroner asked for an inquiry into the use of restraint on vulnerable young people.

At Adam’s inquest, his mother Carol Pounder posed the question:

What gives them the right to hit a child in the nose?

Today, the Observer reports that she is ‘relieved’ that other people will now know the truth about restraint.

The Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) have issued the following statement on the issue:

The Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) made a Freedom of Information request to the Youth Justice Board on 10 May 2007 for a copy of the Physical Control in Care manual. This governs the use of restraint and staff self-defence in secure training centres (STCs).

STCs are privately run child prisons in England. They can hold a maximum total of 301 children:

  • Oakhill in Milton Keynes, Bedfordshire, can hold up to 80 children aged 12 to 17
  • Hassockfield in Consett, County Durham, can hold up to 58 children aged 12 to 17
  • Rainsbrook in Rugby, Northamptonshire, can hold up to 87 children aged 12 to 17
  • Medway in Rochester, Kent, can hold up to 76 children aged 12 to 17

The YJB reports that children are held in houses of eight children and that there is a ‘High staff to young people ratio, but lower than secure children’s homes’. It explains that ‘STCs house vulnerable young people who are sentenced to custody or remanded to secure accommodation’.

CRAE received pages 1-59 of the PCC Manual in June 2007. Pages 60 to 119 of the Manual were disclosed to CRAE with redactions on 13 May 2010 during Information Tribunal proceedings in which the YJB was appealing against an order by the Information Commissioner in December 2009 that it should disclose the Manual in full to CRAE.

A full, unredacted copy of the Manual was delivered by courier to CRAE on the afternoon of 13 July 2010, after the YJB had withdrawn its appeal on 30 June 2010. The YJB asserted Crown copyright upon its disclosure.

A lot of the Manual contents are deeply disturbing and must be read in context.

Restraint and the use of force can only be justified in law if the individual circumstances show that it was a genuine last resort. Part of the consideration has to be the age, vulnerability and circumstances of individual children. Being locked up is by its very nature evidence of vulnerability.

CRAE is particularly anxious about the impact of these revelations on children and families. We understand that this information could be especially distressing for a child expecting a custodial sentence, and his or her family, as well as those held in STCs now. We are not in a position to give assurances about the child protection and safety of children in these centres, though we can point to recent Ofsted inspection reports which are, on the whole, extremely positive.

There is no escaping that the inquests into the deaths in 2004 of 15 year-old Gareth Myatt and 14 year-old Adam Rickwood painted a very bleak picture. Last year, Carol Pounder, the mother of Adam Rickwood, successfully brought judicial review proceedings in the High Court to seek a new inquest into the circumstances surrounding the death of her son. Those proceedings found widespread unlawful use of restraint preceding Adam’s death. A more recent review established by the former Government, conducted by Andrew Williamson and Peter Smallridge, also found evidence of unlawful use of force. It reported to Ministers in June 2008.

Anyone concerned about the safety and welfare of a child held in a STC should contact their local children’s services or the NSPCC.  If you believe a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm you can request that social workers conduct enquiries under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989. Any enquiries under this part of the 1989 Act must include ascertaining and giving due consideration to the child’s wishes and feelings.

The Manual obtained by CRAE includes restraint and staff self defence methods authorised for use at least from 2005. The YJB said in its accompanying letter to CRAE that this was the Manual in force at the time of our Freedom of Information request in May 2007. We were not aware that a revised manual had been issued and we have submitted a new set of FOI requests to clarify this.

Through other Freedom of Information requests and Parliamentary Questions we have been able to ascertain that the use of very painful “distractions” has reduced dramatically. Figures obtained by us showed that they were used 768 times resulting in 51 recorded injuries in 2004/05. The latest data released to Parliament shows a massive decrease, with apparently only 12 uses (all thumb “distractions”) throughout 2008 and none at all in the first three months of 2009.

We have no information about the actual use of the shocking self defence methods described in the newly disclosed sections of the Manual. We are working closely with cross-party Parliamentarians, in the Houses of Commons and Lords, to urgently obtain this information.

Manual contents

Pages 1 to 7: this gives brief background to the PCC training, the importance of staff safety, the PCC course outline, overview of instructor training and the principles of PCC.

Pages 8 to 15: this summarises the law, including human rights legislation, relating to restraint and the use of force.

Pages 16 to 25: this summarises how staff may feel and react when feeling threatened and under stress. It provides an overview of conflict resolution, de-escalation techniques and defusion strategies.

Pages 26 to 27: this includes a table indicating the reasonable response options for different children’s behaviour, from ‘passive resistance’ (‘trainee offers no resistance but refuses to comply with reasonable requests or direct orders’) to ‘threat to life’.

Pages 28 to 30: this sets out the obligations of staff to write a report after each use of force incident: ‘A report is always completed by the member of staff involved in the use of force explaining the circumstances in which force was used and justifying the actions of that member of staff in using force … The purpose of the member of staff writing the report is to justify their actions and to demonstrate that the use of force was: Reasonable in the circumstances.
Necessity (sic).
No more force than necessary.
Proportionate to the seriousness of the situation.’

Pages 30 to 35: this sets out ‘the potential dangers associated with restraints’ and aims to equip staff to ‘recognise early warning signs’. The background section explains: ‘A number of adverse effects are possible following the application of restraints. These include being unable to breathe, feeling sick or vomiting, developing swelling to the face and neck and development of petechiae (small blood-spots associated with asphyxiation) to the head, neck and chest. This advice sheet serves to remind staff of the dangers of restraint and signs of impending asphyxiation’.

Pages 36 and 37: these include a table depicting the possible impact of blows to particular areas of the body and the ‘medical implication’. The text preceding the four rows shaded in red states: ‘In the most extreme circumstances, the following areas may be targeted, however staff must be able to justify their actions’. The medical implications of blows to the ‘neck and throat area’, ‘head’, ‘eyes’ and ‘groin’ – all shaded in red – include ‘Fracture to the skull’ ‘Blurred vision’ and ‘Temporary or Permanent Blindness caused by rupture to eyeball or detached retina’. In relation to the Neck and Throat area, the table notes: ‘Pressure or blows to the throat may cause asphyxiation due to bruising of the windpipe. Death can occur very quickly….’

Pages 39 to 51: these are guidelines for instructors, covering matters such as approach, attitude, presentation, teaching technique, safety precautions, preparing a presentation, warm ups and stretching exercises.

Pages 53 to 56: this covers the role of the PCC supervisor. The Manual states: ‘A supervisor must be appointed for every planned removal prior to the deployment of staff to resolve the incident, Incidents requiring the use of PCC must be supervised by an officer who will be accountable for the management of the incident until the trainee is under control (the supervising officer)… Ideally the supervisor will take no active part in the resolution of the incident but will remain accountable for the management of the incident.’ There is also a short section on the role of health care staff.

Pages 57 to 59: these pages provide basic guidelines on the use of video recording during incidents. The basic tips section includes: ‘Always explain to staff involved in an incident that you are video recording the events continuously and that it may be used at a later date for evidence. Enforce the reason for the video recording is to protect staff from false allegations being made against them… Obtain a close up of the trainees face and a full-length view of their clothing. Ask the trainee their name, number and if they have any injuries, if the circumstances allow you to do so’.

Pages 60 to 94: these provide instruction on the variety of PCC holds and restraint techniques, including the deliberately painful rib, nose and thumb “distractions”. The nose “distraction” was suspended by Ministers in STCs in December 2007 and banned in December 2008 (a similar technique remains in young offender institutions where the vast majority of child prisoners are held). The Manual states: ‘Distractions are only used when a trainee is extremely violent and the safety of the staff and the trainee is at risk, and it’s (sic) uses fully justified. The distraction must be necessary and proportionate to the circumstances. You must give the trainee a command or order first, before using a distraction. Do not hold the distraction on for any length of time. Short, Sharp Bursts. Only distractions approved in the PCC Manual to be used. No more than 2 distractions are to be used in a removal’.

Pages 95 to 100: this section provides instruction on responding to improvised weapon attacks.

Pages 101 to 103: this explains the policy on use of handcuffs: ‘The use of handcuffs on a trainee must only be in exceptional circumstances’. The list is: ‘Long or difficult route to escort the trainee’ ‘Staff unlikely to maintain P.C.C. holds’ ‘Exceptionally strong/violent trainees’ ‘To aid de-escalation’. The application and removal of handcuffs involves ‘instruct[ing] the trainee to adopt a kneeling position’. Only the approved HIATT HANDCUFF MODEL 2015 can be used. According to the Hiatt catalogue, these are ‘made from top quality steel, the chain style model features reinforced steel swivels for added strength and durability’.

Pages 104 to 110: this section covers personal protection and gives instructions in how to apply extremely violent and dangerous force. The introduction explains when these techniques may be used: ‘It is important that each member of staff is able to defend him/her self from attack. This part of the course deals with one on one techniques, whereby the individual, faced with more common methods of assault is able to: Defend themselves effectively using only the amount of force necessary. Avoid the possibility of becoming a hostage. Prevent threats to security as a result of loss of keys, radio etc. Avoid an incident escalating into a large one through the involvement of other young people’. It goes on: ‘All techniques are therefore concerned with breakaways in which the individual’s prime objective is to disengage quickly and seek assistance. Some of the techniques [the manual does not say which] are concerned with situations in which the member of staff is at grave risk and where the individual may need to use exceptional methods to save themselves. Such techniques may be used only where a member of staff is in grave danger and no other option is available…’ Methods include:

  • ‘Strik[ing] the trainee in the face with their elbow’.
  • ‘… driving the inverted knuckles of either hand under the trainee’s rib cage driving the trainee over the head of the student’.
  • ‘The student’s shoe is raked down the trainee’s shin and driven down onto the instep of the trainee’.
  • ‘[U]se an inverted knuckle into the trainee’s sternum and drive inward and upward’.
  • ‘The student’s shoe is raked down the trainee’s shin and driven down onto the instep of the trainee’s foot’.
  • ‘Should the trainee maintain the hold, the student then can use inverted knuckles on both of their hands to drive into both sides of the trainee’s rib cage area. If the hold is still maintained the student’s hands can apply pressure upwards and forwards to the trainee’s nose. The trainee is pushed away and the student exits’.

Pages 111 to 113: this section covers ‘breakaways from the rear’ and also gives instructions in how to apply extremely violent and dangerous force. Methods include:

  • ‘The member of staff drives straight fingers into the young person’s face, and then quickly drives the straightened fingers of the same hand downwards into the young person’s groin area. The member of staff’s other arm will extend fully, with their palm uppermost, and their elbow will be driven back whilst moving their hips laterally into the young person’s rib cage. The member of staff will continue to carry alternate elbow strikes to the young person’s ribs until a release is achieved’.
  • ‘The member of staff will rake their shoes down the young person’s shins and drive their foot into the young person’s instep’.
  • ‘The member of staff will move their hips forward allowing them to strike with extended fingers into the young person’s groin area. The member of staff (sic) buttocks are then driven rearwards into the young person’s groin whilst simultaneously driving forward with both of their arms to achieve a release’.
  • ‘The member of staff will rake their shoes down the young person’s shins and drive their foot onto the young person’s instep. Should the young person persist then the member of staff can drive with extended knuckles of both hands into the young person’s rib cage area. The member of staff can also break the young person’s grip by pressing an inverted knuckle into the base of the young person’s thumb and applying of (sic) downward pressure’.

According to information from the YJB, these techniques are taught to STC staff as part of an initial 5-day training course on the whole PCC restraint system, with a minimum of 1-day yearly refresher courses.

What we want to happen next

The Secretaries of State for Justice and Education must:

  1. Prohibit the use of restraint techniques that aim deliberately to cause physical pain and humiliation.
  2. Introduce an explicit ban on corporal punishment in STCs and young offender institutions.
  3. End the use of handcuffs on children.
  4. Ensure there is separate guidance, training and oversight relating to maintaining positive child-centred environments and responding to violent incidents, aggression and conflict; and intervening in situations where there are immediate and serious threats to life. All techniques must be consistent with norms in other settings caring for children and vulnerable adults, as well as compliant with human rights standards.
  5. Include child protection in custody in the Munro Review or establish a separate review focused on ensuring effective child protection in “secure” settings, as a precursor to the development of safeguarding legislation specifically for children in custody.
  6. Where there is a likelihood of past unlawful treatment, inform individual children and their families of their right to compensation and justice and provide them with the contact details of CRAE and other appropriate organisations.
  7. Establish a judicial public inquiry under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights to investigate the extent to which children’s rights to protection from torture, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment has been upheld in STCs since their establishment in 1998. This wide-ranging inquiry should consider the roles and actions of former Ministers as well as the various agencies that have statutory duties relating to the protection of children in custody, including the YJB, Ofsted and children’s services. The inquiry must take evidence directly from children and adults that have personal experience of being held in STCs, in private where this is necessary.

CRAE is writing to all those agencies that have statutory duties relating to the protection of children in custody, and to organisations providing visiting and advocacy services, to provide information about the manual contents, to remind them of the law relating to assault and child cruelty and the UK’s human rights obligations. We are not undertaking wide dissemination of the Manual given it is subject to Crown copyright: we urge all agencies working with children in custody to make their own FOI application to the YJB. We understand that a request has been made for a copy of the Manual to be placed in the Parliament library: were this to happen the manual would be widely available to the public.

Leave a Reply