Former Youth Justice Chief Attacks Rule Change On Restraint

The senior civil servant who drew up the rules on restraining teenagers in child jails has strongly criticised ministers for making changes which will allow private security staff to inflict pain on children who refuse to go to bed or be quiet.

Jon Fayle, who resigned as the Youth Justice Board’s (YJB) head of policy for the juvenile secure estate last November, says in a letter to the Guardian today that the proposed changes to the rules for the privately run secure training centres are “utterly deplorable”.

He says the 2006 YJB code of practice stated that physical restraint techniques should not be used “merely to secure compliance with staff instructions” such as “go to bed” or “keep your voice down”.

Mr Fayle also warns that if the change goes through – it is due to come into effect on July 6 unless challenged by MPs – it will inevitably “herald a significant increase in the use of restraint [contrary to YJB] policy as STC [secure training centre] staff will no longer need to worry if their restraints can be justified”.

MPs and penal reformers have voiced concern at the use of “pain compliant” restraint techniques, such as “nose distraction” which involves a jab to the nose. Latest figures show such techniques were used 3,036 times by private custody officers on 240 children in STCs between November 2005 and October 2006.

The growing row over the widespread use of physical force to restrain troublesome children in privately-run secure training centres comes before next week’s expected inquest verdict into the death of Gareth Myatt, 15, who died after being restrained in Rainsbrook STC in Northamptonshire after refusing to go to bed.

The justice minister, Bridget Prentice, told MPs yesterday in a ministerial statement that the rules were being “clarified” at the request of the coroner at a second inquest into the death of Adam Rickwood, 14, who took his life hours after being restrained at Hassockfield STC, near Durham.

The amendment to the rules will make it clear that “pain-compliance” physical restraint techniques can be used not just where there is “genuine risk to people or property”, but also as a last resort to “maintain good order and discipline”.

Mr Fayle told the Guardian that when he worked at the YJB he tried to ensure that the legitimate use of force was not used simply to procure compliance to staff instructions. “There were forces in the YJB, and the Home Office, that did not support this ambition,” he said.

Eventually the code of practice was agreed stating that “restraint should not be used ‘merely to secure compliance with staff instructions’.” It made clear that non-compliance with some staff instructions – such as “put down that knife” – would justify the use of force but others such as “go to bed” or “keep your voice down” would not.

“The YJB now finds itself in the extraordinary position of supporting a change in the law which breaches [its] own code of practice,” writes Mr Fayle.

The former Labour minister Sally Keeble said the government should drop the change to the rules: “You cannot create an ‘environment of mutual respect’ as the ministerial statement says, by routinely decking young people.”

She said the government should withdraw the statutory instrument enacting the change and have a full review of the use of restraint in secure training centres after the conclusion next week of Gareth Myatt’s inquest.

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman defended the change. “This is not about promoting the use of restraint, this is about maintaining good order and discipline to ensure the safety of both children and staff,” she said. “This will not mean that restraint will be used more widely.”