European Committee for the Prevention of Torture criticises UK’s treatment of children detained in custody
In April, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) published their assessment of how well the UK complies with the anti-torture treaty and whether it protects the rights of children detained in the state’s care.
Last year, CRAE gave written and oral evidence on the treatment of children in custody to the CPT and Committee members visited the UK – including Cookham Wood young offender institution (YOI). The CPT also examined the care and treatment of children with mental health problems detained in police custody.
Noting the scandal of the then G4S-run Medway secure training centre (STC), exposed by BBC Panorama last year, the CPT recommended an urgent review of ‘the current operating model of the YOIs and STCs with a view to ensuring that, if exceptionally necessary to hold juveniles in detention, the secure juvenile estate is truly juvenile-centred and based on the concept of small well-staffed living units’. It said children's welfare ‘should lie at the heart of the juvenile detention system’.
The CPT’s other findings and recommendations to the UK Government included:
- In Cookham Wood, the CPT found that ‘the high levels of violence were managed primarily through locking juveniles up for long periods of time’. Committee members met a child ‘who spent 23.5 hours a day lying on his bed, under his covers, blankly looking at a TV screen, talking and meeting no one’. Another boy, aged 15, had been held in these appalling conditions ‘for several weeks’. The CPT concluded: ‘holding juveniles in such conditions amounts to inhuman and degrading treatment’ and recommends the UK authorities "take urgent steps to provide all juvenile prisoners - especially those on “separation” or “protection” lists - with a purposeful regime, including physical activities and considerably more time out-of-cell than currently provided’.
- 43 children at the time of the CPT’s visit to Cookham Wood were not receiving any education. The majority ‘were offered around three and a half hours [out of their cells] to exercise, associate and eat communally’.
- Children in Cookham Wood who were punished by ‘cellular confinement’ were held in cells, which ‘were dark, dirty, poorly lit and inadequately ventilated’. Many children complained about being locked in their cells for excessive periods leading the CPT to check official records. They found five children had been held in solitary confinement for more than 20 days in January 2016; three of them 31 days. In September 2015, one child had spent 52 days in solitary confinement. Periods of segregation lasting 80 days had been recorded by the child prison. The CPT also examined data for other child prisons and found them to be ‘staggering’. It cites two cases of children in Wetherby and Werrington YOIs being segregated for a period of 84 days. The CPT’s strong criticisms of the use of solitary confinement for children were backed up by two recommendations that: the UK urgently abolish prison powers to hold children in solitary confinement as punishment; and segregation units are replaced with ‘small staff-intensive units’.
In relation to detention in police custody, the CPT noted that there appeared to be no uniform approach to the use of means of restraint across the 43 police forces in England and Wales and recommended that ‘the safety of the use of ‘spit helmets’, velcro fixation straps and Emergency Response Belts in police custody suites be reviewed.’ The CPT also, while welcoming Government commitments to end the practice of children with mental health problems being detained in police custody, the said they wanted to see this enshrined in legislation.
CRAE met with members of the CPT in April to discuss their report and current conditions for children in police custody and the youth secure estate.
In particular, we welcomed their recommendation for a safety review of the use of spit hoods and raised our concerns over the increased use on children in police custody. Research for CRAE’s State of Children’s Rights in England 2016 report 2016 revealed that just under half of all forces use the devices. Many of these have introduced spit hoods in the last two or three years. Data from the 10 forces who were able to provide information showed that:
- In 2015 spit hoods were used on at least 12 children in England with the youngest being 13 years old.
- In the first nine months of 2016 alone (to the end of September) the use of spit hoods on children doubled and they were used on at least 24 children in England (with the youngest recorded age being 15 years old).
- The true figures on the use of spit hoods on children are likely to be much larger.
CRAE is working with members of the London Forum on Children and Policing to raise our concerns about this and have held discussions with the National Police Chiefs Council, the Metropolitan Police and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime as the Metropolitan Police consult on whether to roll our the use of the devices across custody suites in London.