Despite what some media outlets might suggest, UK detention facilities are no holiday camp for those spending time inside.
Whilst images have surfaced in the media showing inmates playing computer games and taking ‘group selfies’ that could well fool us into believing that there is enjoyment amongst those on the inside, no one has considered what it is like for those that are mistreated and harmed when their care is within the hands of the state, and what it would be like to loose the basic human rights that we are all granted.
What Happens When Detention Facilities Reach Capacity?
When detention facilities start to reach capacity, in a similar way to any institution that is designed to house human beings, the pressure on that institution, and the staff that work within it, increases. When capacity turns into over crowding, the ratio between the supervisors and the supervised becomes disproportionate, unsafe and creates an environment such that incidents occur which would normally have otherwise been prevented.
The Human Rights Act 1998 sets out the fundamental rights and freedoms that everyone in the UK is entitled to. Whilst those that are detained may have to suffer the curtailment of certain rights, such as personal freedom and the right to vote, they are still entitled to share the benefit of and receive the protection of all other basic human rights, and in particular the rights to life and prohibition of torture. We must consider whether we are doing enough to protect the human rights of some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
The Tragedy of Restraint Techniques
The issues surrounding the mistreatment of detainees was brought into the centre of media storm in April 2004 when Gareth Myatt, at the age of 15 years, became the first child to die in a privately run Secure Training Centre (a young offender’s institution equivalent to a prison). Gareth died after being restrained by three adult officers, under a Home Office and Youth Justice Board approved restraint technique known as the ‘seated double embrace’. Gareth weighed a mere six and a half stone. The restraints system, introduced in 1998, came with a promise that the use of it would be constantly reviewed, however a medical review into the use of restraints was ordered after Gareth’s death, and the ‘seated double embrace’ technique was withdrawn.
In August 2004 Adam Rickwood became the second individual to die in a privately run Secure Training Centre. Adam hanged himself, taking his own life, after being restrained by centre staff.
The mistreatment of detainees, especially those under the age of eighteen, is not a subject that has been greatly reported on, nor is it considered to be one of the major pressing issues of today’s society, a troubled child is more easy to pass by, Oliver Twist, and not Artful Dodger, got the happy ending.
Independent Review of Restraint in Juvenile Secure Settings
Following the tragic deaths of Gareth Myatt and Adam Rickwood, reports were commissioned and opinions were sought. One such report was the Independent Review of Restraint in Juvenile Secure Settings, commissioned in 2008. This was carried out by two social workers with many years’ experience in practice and management, and they attended, quite freely, many Secured Training Centres to speak directly with the children and staff on the topic of restraint.
Minimising and Managing Physical Restraint
The Ministry of Justice, followed up on the recommendations with a new behaviour management and restraint system known as Minimising and Managing Physical Restraint (MMPR). The aim of MMPR was to provide staff with the knowledge and ability to recognise certain behaviours in young people, and to use de-escalation and diversion strategies, through the application of behaviour management techniques to minimise the use of restraint. The report also highlighted that staff must be able to clearly demonstrate why restraint was necessary.
We have also seen the introduction of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015, which brings in the construction of ‘Secure Colleges,’ in place of the Secured Training Centres, where the emphasis is on greater education for the young offenders for rehabilitation purposes.
Young and Vulnerable People are Still at Risk
The introduction of the MMPR, together with the Act, arguably demonstrates that the Government has recognised the need to overhaul the rehabilitation of young offenders. It paints a picture that there will not be a reoccurrence of the tragic events that led to the death of the two young individuals.
However, when a copy of the MMPR was requested by charity Article 39, a largely redacted version was provided. The reasoning given for the large redaction was that the techniques used on young offenders, are also used on adult prisoners, and it was argued that disclosure of the manual will allow adult prisoners to develop counter measures against the techniques.
Changing Culture Takes Time
The report stated that ‘it is recognised that the required cultural change is expected to take a sustained period of time.’ However, many would argue that there has been no significant change in the way in which the human rights of detainees are being safeguarded and that the Secure Colleges are merely a cheaper and easier to run alternative to the Secured Training Centres as they are intended to house more offenders in one location than their predecessors.
Some believe that the new systems, and not the actual restraint techniques themselves, are what have been specifically designed for children. It certainly raises the question “have we honoured the deaths of Gareth Myatt and Adam Rickwood?”.
Only time will tell.
The Fight for Civil Liberties Goes On
At McMillan Williams, we strive to uphold the rule of law and challenge any abuse to the human rights of those who have been detained. We believe that as a nation, we must protect each other from those who seek to harm us or prevent us from enjoying all civil liberties, and whilst Government reports bring much needed public scrutiny and awareness of the issue, there is still a way to go to ensure that we are fully protecting those that are detained by the state.
A special consideration should apply to those most vulnerable, such as the youth members of our society.
We Can Help
At MW, our mission is "To make quality legal services accessible to everyone" including vulnerable young people who find themselves detained in Secure Training Centres.
If you believe that your or a family members Human Rights have been breached and you wish to discuss the case with one of our experienced and dedicated Civil Liberties Lawyers, call us today on 020 3551 8500 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.