FULL REPORT: Pain-inducing techniques and planned use of force at Wetherby Young Offender Institution

Wetherby Young Offender Institution. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.
Wetherby Young Offender Institution. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.

Pain-inducing techniques, prone restraint, and planned interventions have been used at Wetherby Young Offender Institution (YOI), according to a government report.

Youth Justice Board findings on minimising and managing physical restraint (MMPR) broke down the number of incidents at the institution for prisoners under 18.

Between October 2013 and March 2014, there were 303 incidents involving force at the YOI - an average of 51 per month and 20 per 100 young people per month.

Studies also found that there were four incidents a month at Wetherby involving pain-inducing techniques, which are restricted to circumstances where it is necessary to protect a child or others from immediate risk of serious physical harm.

This particular information is under review by the board and CCTV of these incidents has been retained.

Director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform Andrew Neilson said: “Children in prison remain children, and it is a sign of how prisons fail children when staff have to restrain and inflict sanctioned violence on the children under their care.

“There has been a welcome reduction in the number of children in custody, but a consequence of this is that there are fewer institutions and more pressure on a prison like Wetherby.

“The concern is that, as children from further and further away are jailed there, the regime will become more unstable and we may see more restraint incidents as staff struggle to maintain control.”

There were 75 documented incidents at Wetherby YOI involving the use of prone restraint.

Guidelines say force and MMPR techniques should be used on a standing prisoner unless absolutely necessary due to an increased risk to young people.

Wetherby also had an average of four incidents per month involving force used in planned interventions, instead of the typical response to spontaneous incidents.

A planned use of force is used to respond to potential danger and risk of serious harm, including hostage-taking, and the use of weapons.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “The safety and welfare of young people in custody is our highest priority and there are situations where their behaviour is extremely challenging and puts themselves and others at risk.

“We are clear that restraint should only be used as a last resort where no other form of intervention is appropriate.

“We have made significant improvements to restraint practice in youth custody, including rolling out a new independently-assessed system designed to avoid restraint as much as possible.”

Though a different kind of establishment to the other case studies, with different cohorts and population sizes, the monthly average of 51 use of force incidents at Wetherby was higher than at Secure Training Centres (STCs) in Rainsbrook, with 34 incidents per month, and 25 at Oakhill, where studies took place from March 2013 to March 2014 and from September 2013 to March 2014 respectively.

However, Wetherby has a lower average of use of force incidents per 100 young people per month than the STCs - 34.2 at Rainsbrook and 25.7 at Oakhill.

A monthly average of 31.1 was found at Hindley YOI, however, according to the report, it is difficult to draw conclusions based on this three-month case study.

The report said: “There are limitations to identifying any definitive patterns or trends. As more data is collected over a longer period of time, from a greater number of establishments, firmer evidence will emerge.

“There are many factors that can influence the behaviour of young people and staff and thus affect the number and type of incidents within individual secure establishments.

“These include the different risks and needs of individual young people, the frequency and severity of assaults by young people and the overall approach (and effectiveness) of behaviour management within any establishment.”