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08 July 2020

PRT comment: Taylor review of the use of pain-inducing techniques in the secure estate for children

Commenting on the proposals in Charlie Taylor’s review of the use of pain-inducing techniques during restraint in the secure estate for children that was published on the 18th June, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“We welcome the decision to remove pain-inducing restraint from the MMPR syllabus. But the issue has been dogged by long delays, so absolute clarity is needed on the government’s position in relation to all the Taylor recommendations. That means prompt public commitments to what action will be taken and by when, and those are noticeably missing from the government’s accompanying response. Above all, the chronic overuse of pain inducing techniques has to stop—independent, transparent oversight is key, and the government’s apparent equivocation on that issue is a cause for concern.”

Charlie Taylor’s solution to one of the central dilemmas of the use of restraint in the custodial estate, how to minimise the sanctioned and deliberate use of pain against children, is to remove it from the restraint syllabus while leaving its use available to officers in “high risk situations”. This is a step worth taking, although it is important that public oversight is kept on the use of restraint in such “high risk situations”. In particular we need clarity on how staff will be trained to respond in such situations, what techniques will be used (and how these will be sanctioned), as well as how such incidents will be managed and scrutinised. It is particularly important that debriefing of children should take place after each deliberate infliction of pain, that families should receive prompt notification of all incidents, and that advocates should always meet the child in the aftermath.

The government’s response to some of Taylor’s recommendations is disappointing. Slightly less than half are “fully accepted” and there are a worrying number that only receive “acceptance in principle”. Timetables for implementation are missing in their entirety, surprising for a report that the government has had for nearly a year.

An important issue from our perspective has always been that there should be greater levels of public awareness and scrutiny about what happens in children’s prisons. Taylor’s important recommendation to introduce national-level independent scrutiny of the use of pain on children has not been accepted. We believe he could have gone further than this. The outcomes of such scrutiny should be published.

We will press for the full implementation of Taylor’s recommendations.

The ultimate test here is whether reform leads to fewer instances of the use of pain. Time alone will allow this judgement to be made.