Howard League calls on the YJB to withdraw ‘persuasion’ policy
Our work with children in custody revealed that some of the child jails run by the private company G4S had a â€˜touch and holdâ€™ policy. This policy stated that touching or holding a young person to make them comply with staff instructions was â€˜persuasionâ€™ rather than overpowering force and therefore was not the same as restraint. We argued it still amounted to the use of force and was unlawful.
In reality, children were telling our lawyers that sometimes this involved two staff members grabbing the child by the arm to make them go to their rooms. If they refused or reacted to unwanted touching, they would then be restrained which involves several staff inflicting pain on the child. We wrote to the ministry of justice and the youth justice board asking them to withdraw the touch and hold policy but they refused. The touch and hold policy was raised again at the recent hearings on restraint in parliament. Following the hearings, Lord Carlile has written to the prisons minister, Crispin Blunt, stating that more still needs to be done to ensure de-escalation techniques are routinely used in secure custody. Using physical force to make children comply with instructions is much more likely to escalate tension rather than reduce it. It also sends out entirely the wrong message to children, that using force is a way of resolving conflict.
Perhaps in response to the serious concerns we raised regarding the unlawfulness of the touch and hold policy, the YJB has approved a new policy now in place in some STCs, known as the â€˜permissible physical control in careâ€™ policy. This policy includes the rather Orwellian sounding phrase, â€˜guiding handâ€™ instead of the words â€˜touch and holdâ€™. Staff working in STCs are not beyond the law. Unwanted touching or use of force on children in jail is often provocative and harmful, especially if it is routinely used to force children to comply with rules. It may also amount to a criminal offence of assault.
It is misleading to describe the use of physical force, however minimal, to make a child comply with instructions as â€˜persuasionâ€™ and our lawyers are looking to challenge this policy in court. We are calling on the YJB to withdraw this policy immediately and to provide clear guidance that does not give rise to the unacceptable risk of children in the care of the state being routinely subjected to harm. We heard evidence at the parliamentary hearings that the STC staff use physical interventions to get the children to obey so that the company doesnâ€™t get fined. If this is the case, it is disgraceful