Stop imprisoning children!

In February the shocking results of the inquiry by Liberal Democrat Lord Carlile QC into children in custody were published. Carlile reported that imprisoned children in Britain are routinely subjected to treatment that would result in child protection investigations and criminal charges in any other setting.

The inquiry was established after 15-year-old Gareth Myatt died after being restrained by staff at Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre (STC) in April 2004. The report describes ‘demeaning and dehumanising’ strip-searching, painful physical restraint and long periods of isolation. Launching the report Carlile called for an end to the use of prison segregation units and solitary confinement for children.

According to figures given to the inquiry by the Youth Justice Board, restraint was used 7,020 times on young people in STCs between January 2004 and August 2005, 5,133 times on juveniles in young offender institutions (YOIs) between January 2004 and September 2005, and 3,359 times in eight secure children’s homes between January 2004 and October 2005. Handcuffs were used on children 29 times in Hassockfield STC and 17 in Oakhill STC from April to September 2005. In one STC more than 1,500 strip-searches were carried out in an 18-month period.

The inquiry describes the prison segregation units where children can be held for days or weeks at a time as ‘little more than bare, dark and dank cells which in effect were inducements to suicide’. Solitary confinement was used 2,329 times between January 2004 and June 2005 across two YOIs, one STC and three local authority secure children’s homes. One YOI used an ‘isolation cell’ which was completely bare except for a raised concrete plinth for a bed.
The few allegations of assaults by staff on children reported to the police rarely result in prosecution. In one case the police were told about an incident where a child had the ‘imprint of a footprint’ on his back, but no charges were brought.

All the barbaric practices uncovered by Carlile are imported straight from the adult prison system, where segregation/isolation, ‘control and restraint’ and strip-searching are used on a constant basis. The use of such tactics against any human being is appalling – against children it graphically demonstrates the viciousness of the British Labour government, which has kept to its election pledge to lock up more ‘young offenders’ and is waging an unfettered war against working class youth.
Nicki Jameson

FRFI 190 April / May 2006


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