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Children in custody forcibly stripped and painfully restrained

VULNERABLE children in custody have been forcibly stripped and subjected to inappropriate pain-inducing restraints by staff, “deeply shocked” inspectors found.

A report by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, published today, found during two visits to Wetherby Young Offender Institution that all-male teams of officers were forcibly restraining girls to remove their clothing to prevent them from self-harming.

At the prison, which holds boys and girls as young as 15, 24 children had been strip-searched in the last 12 months, with 12 of those occurring under restraint.

Pain-inducing restraint techniques had been applied nine times in the last 12 months and on every occasion had been deemed inappropriate by the independent review of restraint panel.

Footage of use-of-force incidents was not being reviewed consistently and inspectors found that one restraint, which resulted in a child being injured, had not been referred to senior managers.

Chief Inspector of Prisons Charlie Taylor said: “We were deeply shocked to find adult male officers restraining and stripping an incredibly vulnerable girl not once but twice.

“While they no doubt acted to prevent serious harm, the presence of multiple men pinning her down and removing her clothes will have caused further trauma and, given how predictable the behaviour of this particular girl was, the YOI has no excuse not to have made sure that female officers were in attendance.”

Howard League for Penal Reform chief Andrea Coomber said: “It is devastating that girls and boys in distress who need care and support are being hurt, violated and traumatised further in Wetherby prison, where three-quarters of the children have a disability and rates of self-harm are the highest in the country.

“It is virtually impossible to imagine the damage caused to the girl who, made to live in a prison designed for boys, became so distressed to the point of wanting to harm herself and was then forcibly stripped by a group of men not once but twice.

“It is appalling that the state’s care for vulnerable children could sink to such depths.”

The group is calling on ministers to move the children into more suitable accommodation such as secure children’s homes.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Custody should always be the last resort for children who commit crime and there has been an almost 70% decrease in the number of girls in youth custody since 2015, averaging just 12 girls in custody last year.  

“This small number of girls have exceptionally complex needs and require specialised support, which is why HMYOI Wetherby is providing additional training to staff on self-harm and increasing opportunities for meaningful activity, education and personal development.

“Restraint is only used on children in rare circumstances when there is no alternative to prevent serious harm to the child, other children or staff.” 

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