Obituary on Tordie in The Guardian: www.guardian.co.uk/otherlives/story/0,,2016028,00.html
Four minute speech (time limited) in debate on restraint of children in custody:
Lord Avebury: My Lords, it is a pity that last week’s UNICEF report, which put Britain at the bottom of the league table of 21 industrialised countries for child well-being, did not look at the number of children coming into the criminal justice system and the number locked up. The former head of policy at the Youth Justice Board, Jon Fayle, resigned because the Government would not support its policy of reducing youth custody. Rod Morgan, the former chair who resigned a week before, protested that government targets for prosecutions shifted minor offences which used to be dealt with informally into an overstretched criminal justice system and that work to improve regimes in young offender institutions was being undermined. That is the elephant in the room in this debate.
Spending £280 million a year on locking up young people produces an 80 per cent plus reoffending rate, and the money should be largely redirected into community measures for all but the most persistent or dangerous offenders. The number of young people in custody could be reduced by two-thirds, saving £70 million a year. As the noble Baroness has just said, half of the 3,000 under-18s in YOIs suffer from psychiatric disorders; many vulnerable children are placed far away from their families and it is becoming harder to do any useful work with any of them. In this unfavourable environment, force is all too often used as a means of control, causing injuries, as we have heard.
My noble friend mentioned Hindley, where force was used on 236 occasions in the six months prior to the chief inspector’s visit last August. A number of children there suffered injuries as a result of C&R, including, as he mentioned, three with broken wrists. Her recent general inquiry into young people in
19 Feb 2007 : Column 958
custody found that half the boys in Hindley had been restrained, and at Brinsford it was more than a third. What is the Minister doing to see that restraint is used as a last resort, as the YJB recommends?
In the STCs, recent inspections at Medway and Oakhill show a reduction in the use of restraint, but at Hassockfield the withdrawal of the lethal “seated double embrace” led to an increase in the use of handcuffs. Why is there this difference between one institution and the others? The main technique now used in STCs relies on the infliction of pain. My noble friend said that that was unlawful. In the Minister’s opinion is it within the law to inflict pain deliberately on these young people as a means of control?
In an extreme case at Rainsbrook STC nearly three years ago, 15 year-old Gareth Myatt died as a result of restraint. The inquest last week heard about 34 other potentially lethal incidents where children subjected to the “seated double embrace” had incurred serious incidents or complained of being unable to breathe. That technique was discontinued but why was there not a review of the safety of restraint procedures generally as the Home Office promised in 1998? Should there not be an accelerated procedure for inquests on deaths in custody so that the lessons learnt from these dreadful incidents are applied as soon as possible?
The failure to keep uniform records of the use of restraint, including the ethnicity of the subjects, throughout the secure children’s estate is deplorable and must be remedied. Clearly, the YJB’s code of practice, intended to be,
“an agreed set of principles for the use of control methods in all settings where children are cared for”,
needs further development in the light of my noble friend’s report. For some, it may be a matter of life or death.