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43,960 Strip Searches
March 4, 2013 permalink
Two years ago Britain's Youth Justice Board announced the end to routine strip searching of youthful inmates. A copy of their press release is enclosed. A recent freedom of information disclosure reveals that in the past 21 months 43,960 children have been strip searched. A few searches found contraband tobacco, not one found illegal drugs or a knife. A 16-year-old strip-searched girl was forced to turn over her sanitary towel. One more instance showing you should not believe pronouncements coming from child care agencies.
43,000 strip-searches carried out on children as young as 12
Campaigner criticises 'institutionalised child abuse' after FOI request reveals huge number of searches in custody
A promise to end routine strip-searching of children in custody is being flouted, according to data revealing there were more than 43,000 recorded incidences involving children as young as 12 over a 21-month period – but in only 275 searches were illicit items found.
Contraband was discovered in eight of every 1,000 searches in young offender institutions and secure children's homes and training centres in the course of one year, and just three in the next year. Tobacco was the most common item found, with no recorded discoveries of drugs or knives.
A leading children's rights campaigner described the practice as "institutionalised child abuse" after a freedom of information request identified that a total of 43,960 such searches, which routinely involve the children being made to strip naked, were carried out in 21 months.
Two years ago, the Youth Justice Board announced that the routine strip-searching of incarcerated children would stop. Its press release said children had described the practice as undignified, leading "to feelings of anger, humiliation and anxiety".
But the information obtained under FOI and seen by the Guardian shows children were made to strip naked 43,960 times in 25 young offender institutions (YOIs), secure children's homes (SCHs) and secure training centres (STCS) in the 21 months up to December 2012.
The youngest person to be strip-searched was 12. Nearly half – 48% – of children strip-searched were from black and minority ethnic communities. Physical force was used on children being searched 50 times.
The FOI request was made by Carolyne Willow, former national co-ordinator of the Children' Rights Alliance England. She described the "practice of children being forced to expose their naked bodies to adults in authority as institutionalised child abuse".
At the end of August 2012, there were 1,643 children in custody in England and Wales, of whom 1,225 were held in YOIs, 269 in STCs and 149 in SCHs. Of those, 64 were aged under 14 and two just 12. The cost of keeping children in the secure estate was £268.9m.
In 2006, Lord Carlile QC conducted an inquiry into the use of restraint, strip-searching and segregation in child custody. Then, as now, fewer than 10% of searches yielded a "find" and tobacco was the most common item discovered.
One 16-year-old girl told the inquiry she had been strip-searched and ordered to hand her sanitary towel to staff.
Another girl recalled: "When I had my first full search it was horrible as I have been sexually abused and I didn't feel comfortable showing my body as this brought back bad memories."
Willow said: "This matter is of such magnitude that ministers must amend the rules governing secure establishments to prescribe the extremely limited circumstances in which it would ever be permissible to make children in institutions remove their clothes and underwear."
John Drew, chief executive of the YJB said full strip-searches should only be used following an assessment of risk and this should be the starting point for practice in all secure establishments.
He added: "Where providers of STCs and YOIs consider it necessary to carry out routine full searches on first admission, this approach should be justified and will be kept under review by the YJB."
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice said a revised searching policy for young people was introduced last March that ensures their safety and security while not subjecting them to a full search unnecessarily.
"Full searches will only take place when it is necessary and there is a clear justification or identified risk. We have a duty to keep any item that could endanger the safety of young people out of secure establishments. We use a number of measures to disrupt their supply and searches are an important part of this."
The routine strip-searching of women prisoners ended in 2009, after a review undertaken by Lady Corston.
Source: Guardian (UK)
Youth Justice Board commits to improve practice in response to children and young people's views
1 March 2011
The routine use of full searches will stop across the secure estate; there will be a review of the criteria used to separate young people in custody to manage problems that arise; complaints will be handled more fairly and effectively and; work will be undertaken with the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) and the Samaritans to improve the young people's access to helpline services.
This action plan comes as a direct result of the partnership between the Office of the Children's Commissioner (OCC) and the Youth Justice Board (YJB) listening to the powerful insights of young people about full searches, separation, complaints procedures and help lines in the secure estate. The action plan builds on operational reforms planned by the YJB.
In the new research and action plan launched today, the YJB has made a series of commitments to improve the safeguarding practice of their service providers.
The YJB and OCC commissioned the charity User Voice to consult with young people in the secure estate. User Voice is led by ex-offenders who work with the most marginalised people in and around the criminal justice system. For this research, they gathered the views of young people in Young Offender Institutions, Secure Training Centres, Secure Children's Homes and those under the supervision of Youth Offending Services in England.
The safeguarding concerns raised by the young people will now be addressed by the YJB in a series of commitments including:
- Working with NOMS and consulting with young people to redesign the information available to them about the complaints system and delivering training and guidance to improve the quality of staff responses to complaints
- Re-affirming the commitment to only undertake full searches on a risk-led, rather than routine basis
- Providing gowns for the young people in STCs during any necessary full searches
- Working towards phasing out in YOIs the use of separation as a punishment or merely for the use of control.
The majority of the 89 young people who participated in this research recognised that some of these practices were necessary to maintain their safety and that of others.
However, they expressed strong feelings about the way some procedures were carried out because of the distress that they caused.
Full searches were described as undignified and led to feelings of anger, humiliation and anxiety.
87% of young people reported that they were aware of available support services. The helplines provided by Barnardo's were praised because of the emphasis on support and personal contact. However, only 13% of the young people had actually used a helpline due to a general sense of mistrust about them, therefore the take up remained low.
The majority of the young people interviewed knew how to use the complaints system (91%) but they rarely did so - under a third (31%) reported making a complaint. Many said they had little or no faith that the system would be effective. The participants from the Local Authority Secure Children's Home did express satisfaction with the model used as their complaints are dealt with rapidly by senior staff on a personal, face-to-face basis.
Nearly half of the young people (44%) had experience of being removed or separated from other young people. This was mainly to provide staff with the space to address problem behaviours. While the majority of young people could articulate benefits of being separated some of the young people reported feeling cut off and estranged during that time, perceiving themselves to be in the hands of unfeeling staff and away from normally supportive relationships.
The OCC looks forward to the full implementation of the YJB action plan, which will result in practices in the secure estate being aligned to how children should be treated under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
Maggie Atkinson, the Children's Commissioner for England, said:
"The views gathered through this project demonstrate the importance of listening to and involving children in matters affecting their lives. In doing so, we can ensure that we treat those in custody in a dignified and humane way that is focused on their rehabilitation.
"These principles are at the heart of the UNCRC and we welcome the YJB's commitment to act on the concerns raised by the young people who took part in this research. Meaningful engagement of young people across the youth justice system can result in positive changes to attitudes and behaviours and support intervention measures that aim to reduce offending.
"We will work with the YJB to encourage them to incorporate the UNCRC into all youth justice polices and practices. During the next year, we will continue to visit and speak to young people in the secure estate to ensure the commitments laid out in this report are realised."
John Drew, Chief Executive of the YJB, said:
"Yet again I'm impressed by the intelligent and sensible contribution children make when they are consulted on matters that affect them. We sought their views on a range of improvements we planned to make, and they have helped us shape those changes for the better.
"As a result we have made eight commitments to improving the safeguarding of children in the secure estate.
"Listening to children and young people contributes to our aim of helping them to become responsible, independent adults."
Mark Johnson, Founder of User Voice, said:
"I am extremely pleased that the concerns of the young people have been taken seriously by the Youth Justice Board. The powerful and thought-provoking views in this report are a reminder of the important role we all have in these young people's lives, and the role that ex-offenders can play in gaining access to this extremely hard to reach group. Children and young people in the criminal justice system should receive the best support possible if we want them to turn around their lives to be positive and constructive citizens."
Notes to editors
- The report, 'Young people's views on safeguarding in the secure estate - a user voice report for the Youth Justice Board and the Office of the Children's Commissioner', is available to download here.
- The Children's Commissioner for England was established under The Children Act 2004 to be the independent voice of children and young people and to champion their interests and bring their concerns and views to the national arena. The Commissioner's work must take regard of children's rights (the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child) and seek to improve the wellbeing of children and young people: www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk
- The routine use of full searches will stop across the secure estate; there will be a review of the criteria used to separate young people in custody to manage problems that arise; complaints will be handled more fairly and effectively and; work will be undertaken with the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) and the Samaritans to improve the young people's access to helpline services.The Youth Justice Board for England and Wales (YJB) oversees the youth justice system in England and Wales. We work to prevent offending and reoffending by children and young people under the age of 18, and to ensure that custody for them is safe, secure, and addresses the causes of their offending behaviour: www.yjb.gov.uk
- User Voice's work is led and delivered by ex-offenders. It exists to reduce offending by working with the most marginalised people in and around the criminal justice system to ensure that practitioners and policy-makers hear their voices. User Voice Councils can be developed for use within prisons or in the community for probation, youth offending teams and other related services: www.uservoice.org
For media enquires contact:
Senior Communications Officer, Office of the Children's Commissioner
Tel: 020 7783 8580 or 020 7783 8330
Out of hours enquiries: 07920 765 454
Youth Justice Board
Tel: 020 3372 7786 or 07785 388 694
Tel: 020 7968 2740 or 07904 008 084
Source: Office of the Children's Commissioner 2011