UK

Male prison guards forcibly stripped ‘incredibly vulnerable’ teenage girl

An “incredibly vulnerable” girl held in a young offenders’ institution was pinned down and forcibly stripped by “multiple” male prison guards, according to a watchdog.

The teenager had been restrained and had her clothes removed on two occasions at YOI Wetherby in West Yorkshire, which holds some of the most “challenging” children in the country.

The Chief Inspector of Prisons Charlie Taylor said he was “deeply shocked” by the findings, which were gathered from inspections over November and December last year.

Officers often have to intervene “multiple times at night” to stop girls trying to harm themselves, inspectors said, with the site having the “highest rate of self-harm of any prison in the country”.

The three girls held there account for more than half of the self-harm incidents in the past year, which had been the “key cause of use of force and assaults on staff”, Tuesday’s report added.

“We were deeply shocked to find adult male officers restraining and stripping an incredibly vulnerable girl not once but twice,” Mr Taylor said.

“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.”

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According to justice officials, the officers were responding to a life-threatening situation and acted to prevent the girl from harming herself, with female staff not there as they had been assaulted earlier.

But the report added the institution had “no excuse” not to have female officers present, given how “predictable the behaviour of this particular girl was”.

“This is simply not acceptable,” it added.

Over the past 12 months, 24 children were strip-searched, with 12 of those taking place while they were being restrained at the prison, which holds 165 children.

Although prison bosses had recorded the decision to carry out a strip-search, “none had recorded the authority to use restraint”.

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Techniques that deliberately cause pain in a bid to restrain a child had been used nine times over the same period and were deemed “inappropriate” on each occasion by an independent review panel.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said restraint is used on children in “rare circumstances” when there is “no alternative to prevent serious harm to the child, other children or staff”.

“Custody should always be the last resort for children who commit crime and there has been an almost 70% decrease in the number of girls in youth custody since 2015, averaging just 12 girls in custody last year,” she added.

“This small number of girls have exceptionally complex needs and require specialised support, which is why YOI Wetherby is providing additional training to staff on self-harm and increasing opportunities for meaningful activity, education and personal development.”

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