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IICSA published its final Report in October 2022. This website was last updated in January 2023.

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Sexual Abuse of Children in Custodial Institutions: 2009–2017 Investigation Report

E.7: Restraint, strip searching and pain compliance

88. There are occasions when staff in custodial institutions consider it necessary to physically restrain or strip search children. Force may be used to achieve ‘good order and discipline’ in children. Pain compliance techniques are also used on children in custody: the Youth Custody Service confirmed they were used in 119 incidents in STCs and YOIs in the year to March 2017.[1][2]

89. We were concerned to understand whether there are appropriate safeguards in place around this kind of physical contact with children, not least because 92 of the complaints of sexual abuse in our prevalence analysis involved situations of restraint. In addition, as noted in the Inquiry’s REA, there is evidence of a growing understanding of the adverse impact that restraint and strip searching can have on children who have been abused previously.[3] As Peter Gormley, former Governor of HMYOI Werrington, said, it is also likely that a violent and unsafe environment will discourage children from reporting abuse.[4]

90. The Minimising and Managing Physical Restraint (MMPR) programme is the framework within which restraint is used in child custody. It requires staff to ensure that physical restraint is only ever used as a last resort, and there should be a de‐escalation of incidents and the prevention of the use of force, as well as a process of review and learning from incidents.[5][6][7]

91. Strip searching can be extremely intrusive and distressing. Peter Savage, Head of Operational Contract Management, explained on behalf of the Youth Custody Service that it is ‘risk‐led’, ie there has to be a good reason why it is necessary. It must be authorised by a senior person and there must be at least two members of staff present.[8] (The same approach is taken, for example, at Vinney Green SCH.[9]) Dr Janes, Legal Director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, raised concerns over the use of strip searching, particularly in relation to children who have had previous negative sexual experiences or girls who are pregnant.[10][11] Angus Mulready‐Jones, the lead inspector for children in detention for HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP), told us HMIP has noted that the required forms for strip searching are not completed appropriately at times.[12][13][14]

92. Professor Hardwick, former Chief Inspector of Prisons, referred to the HMIP 2015 report about restraint in YOIs and STCs,[15] including examples of how children experience restraint. He was very concerned about the use of pain compliance techniques, and considered their use starts to pervade the culture, normalises pain for staff and for children, and is contrary to staff building trusting relationships with children. As a result, he considered this practice should be stopped.[16][17][18]

93. Dr Janes agreed with the abolition of pain compliance techniques. She also discussed the relationship between the use of restraint and allegations of sexual abuse, including the sexualised nature of some restraint. She said the use of restraint for ‘good order and discipline’ reasons has been ruled unlawful in STCs[19] but is still permitted in YOIs. More generally, Dr Janes commented that, whatever was recorded as the reason for the restraint, children often perceived that they had been subjected to force for not doing what they were told. If children in custody are deliberately subjected to pain by staff, that is also likely to seriously impact on their ability to trust staff or report other concerns. In Dr Janes’ experience, the sense of injustice and powerlessness experienced by children as a result of the use of force is compounded by the fact it is often followed by disciplinary processes.[20][21]

94. Other witnesses shared these concerns about the impact of pain compliance techniques:

  • Both CI‐A17[22][23] and CI‐A34[24] thought that pain compliance or force techniques should not be allowed.

  • Pam Hibbert, a social worker and former Chair of the National Association for Youth Justice, said that while some children exhibited very challenging behaviour, the response to such behaviour should be increased confinement, control and restraint.[25]

  • Carolyne Willow, a social worker and founder of Article 39, agreed that pain‐inducing restraint should be prohibited.[26][27]

  • Phillip Noyes, NSPCC, considered there were no circumstances in which pain compliance techniques should be used.[28][29][30] The NSPCC considers physical restraint of children should only ever be used as a measure of last resort, and there were no circumstances which warranted the use of pain or distraction techniques on children.[31]

  • Angus Mulready‐Jones said that reducing restraint requires better conflict resolution and pain‐infliction techniques should not be used.[32][33][34]

95. The Youth Custody Service witnesses told us that a review of whether pain‐inducing techniques should remain authorised in YOIs and STCs, and in the MMPR syllabus, is in progress. A review of the updated behaviour management code of practice was expected in autumn 2018.[35][36][37][38][39]

96. Alan Wood’s view was that the child’s perception of restraint and what it means to them must be considered, particularly given the impact on children who have been abused.[40] This is supported by the experience at Feltham, where a clear focus on reducing violence with a new behaviour management strategy and restraint minimisation plan has led to a reduction in violence.[41][42]


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