Teen girl restrained and stripped by prison staff

1 month ago 24

Cell in HMYOI WetherbyImage source, HMI Prisons

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Wetherby Young Offender Institution holds some of the most complex and vulnerable young prisoners, inspectors say.

A vulnerable girl in a young offenders institution twice had her clothes removed under restraint, by an all-male team of prison officers, a report says.

The inmate had been stripped to stop her using her clothes to hang herself at Wetherby Young Offender Institution.

The chief inspector said there was "no effective model of custody" for very vulnerable children at the YOI.

The prison service said restraint should be used rarely and staff would receive extra training.

Inmates at Wetherby are some of the most complex and vulnerable in the country, including children serving very long or life sentences.

Young offenders institutions hold prisoners aged between 15 and 21 who have received a custodial sentence.

'Very vulnerable'

Last December, when the inspectors made their report, seven girls aged under 18 were in custody in England and Wales, across three locations.

Among those at Wetherby, chief inspector of prisons Charlie Taylor found an "extremely high" level of self-harm, with frequent night-time calls to staff to prevent attempts and a large number of assaults on staff.

"There was still no effective model of custody for these very vulnerable children and, despite the best efforts of staff, the YOI was not able to meet their needs," he said.

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Some child inmates had very little time out of their cell, particularly at weekends, the report 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."

Image source, HMI Prisons

Image caption,

Some young inmates at Wetherby are allowed to use a sensory room

Mr Taylor said the jail's dedicated governor had made Wetherby more stable and settled but criticised the number of managers - 91 for an institution with 165 inmates.

The report has prompted calls for reform of youth justice in England and Wales.

Andrea Coomber, of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: "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."

Campbell Robb, chief executive of the charity Nacro, said: "A group of men forcibly stripping a distressed young girl, hurting and locking away children in cold cells is not how any child should be treated in a civilised society, whatever they have done in the past.

"The government must act immediately to improve the lives of these children and to lay out a comprehensive improvement plan across all of these institutions."

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said custody should be the last resort for children who commit crime and the number of girls in youth custody had decreased since 2015.

"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," she said.

"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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