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Child restraint in prisons

Tippa Naphtali | 06.08.2007 11:52 | Repression | Social Struggles | Birmingham | Sheffield

Coroner tells Straw to act now on restraint in child prisons

Jack Straw, MP
Jack Straw, MP

The coroner who presided over the inquest into the death of a 15-year-old who died after being restrained in a child jail has warned the justice secretary, Jack Straw, that it would be "wholly unforgivable" if the lessons were delayed by a general review of the use of restraint announced yesterday.

The retired judge, Richard Pollard, who presided over the inquest into the death of Gareth Myatt, the youngest person to die in custody, sent a 17-page letter to Mr Straw yesterday detailing 34 recommendations needed to prevent similar deaths happening in the network of privately-run secure training centres that hold the most persistent teenage offenders in the country. Read full article >,,2129646,00.html

Tippa Naphtali
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State tortures and murders working class children with legal impunity

06.08.2007 13:54

In September 2004, the government launched a programme called Every Child Matters, designed to portray it’s ‘vision for enhancement of the way in which professionals work together to provide children’s care and to place better outcomes for children firmly at the centre of all their policies and approaches’.

In April that year, at Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre (STC) in Northamptonshire 15-year-old Gareth Myatt died while being ‘restrained’ by three adult males. His ‘offence’? He had refused to clean a sandwich toaster. The staff used a technique known as a ‘double-seated embrace’ which involved securing the youngster in a hold while seated on a chair or bed. During the struggle, Gareth lost consciousness and died of positional asphyxia. An inquest later heard that the teenager had tried to tell staff that he could not breathe. One of his assailants shouted ‘If you can shout, you can breathe’. Gareth then said that he was going to shit himself and somebody replied ’Well, you are going to have to shit yourself, because we can’t let you go while you are like this’. The boy duly shat himself, but it did not stop the restraint and Gareth died choking on his own vomit. He was 4’10’ tall and weighed less that seven stone. His assailants collectively weighed in at over 50 stone.

Some three months after Gareth’s death, 14-year-old Adam Rickwood became the youngest child to die in custody in modern times. He too was in a Secure Training Centre, Hassockfield, County Durham. Like Gareth, he had been restrained for failing to comply with an order, in his case, refusing to go to his room. As well as being restrained, Adam was assaulted by staff using a method known as a ‘nose distraction technique’. This is linguistic juggling, masking the fact that the ‘technique’ is the equivalent of a punch on the nose. A few hours later, Adam hanged himself. Before he died, He wrote a letter of complaint to the authorities asking, ‘What gives them the right to hit a child on the nose?’

Secure Training Centres were the brainchild of Tory home secretary Michael Howard, supposedly as a cheaper and more professional alternative to secure local authority children’s homes. In 1994, when STCs were discussed in Parliament, Tony Blair said: ‘To weaken the provisions in local communities and claim that building the new STCs will help to prevent juvenile crime is a sham.’ The first STC, Medway, was opened in 1998 under the Labour government and there are now four spread around the country.
The centres are privately run and are authorised, and monitored by, the Youth Justice Board, (YJB). An answer to a parliamentary question in 2007 revealed that they cost £42.7 million, for 274 places. This represents a cost of £172,000, per child per year, seven times the cost of the most expensive public school. Despite the fact that STCs stress their dedication to education and rehabilitation, these places are kids’ prisons. In March 2006 a peer told the House of Lords: ‘I recently visited a Secure Training Centre and was more thoroughly searched than I have ever been in a lifetime of visiting prisons, including the Maze.’

At Adam Rickwood’s inquest it was clear that those witnesses responsible for dealing with children went to great pains to avoid calling them just that. Staff from the centre, social services and youth offending teams constantly referred to Adam as a ‘young man’. Similarly, cells became ‘bedrooms’, while ‘single separation’ is the euphemism for solitary confinement.

At the time of the boys’ deaths, under STC rules, the use of restraint was only permitted in order to prevent escape, assault or damage to property. The rules clearly stated that restraint could not be used for non-compliance. Yet, Gareth and Adam were manhandled for not doing as they were told and, in the year before Adam died, restraint was used no less than 972 times, in an establishment that held around 40 children. At Gareth’s inquest, the jury were told that the YJB had been warned about the excessive use of force at Rainsbrook but had failed to take action. The narrative verdict, delivered at the end of June, declared that the YJB’s failure to respond to the warnings contributed to the boy’s death.
What was the response of the Youth Justice Board to the two deaths, which were clearly related to breaches of rules by STC staff? Shockingly, it has moved to increase the use of restraint in STCs. In concert with the Ministry of Justice, it has agreed to a Statutory Instrument being laid in Parliament which legalises the use of restraint for non-compliance. The use of Statutory Instruments is widely regarded as a back-door method of getting legislation carried without debate or consultation.

Staff have broken the rules; two boys have died as a direct result, so the authorities now intend to allow them to stay within the law when they assault children.

Secure Training Centres hold children between the ages of 12 and 16; many of them terribly damaged and vulnerable. So called ‘normal kids’ of those ages will behave badly; they may refuse to be quiet, or go to bed, or disobey any number of requests/orders from their parents. ‘Normal’ parents, including those who work for the YJB and the Ministry of Justice, would not resort to violence every time their child refused to comply. How dare they allow those in loco parentis over these already fractured children to get away with abusing them?

Remember the slogan ‘Every Child Matters’? designed to produce ‘better outcomes for children’? It is impossible to imagine a worse outcome than one which sees one child fashioning a noose and hanging himself, rather than face another day in the care of the state; while another, also in care, dies in his own shit and vomit. Every child does indeed matter, but in the eyes of the Labour government, some kids clearly matter less than others.

Eric Allison

published in Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 198 Aug/Sep 2007