Case studies: complaints from those under 21

As in previous years, the number of complaints from those under 21 in 2018/19 remained disproportionately small: accounting for just 26 of the 2,569 that we investigated. We know there are a number of reasons why young people do not complain to us. Anecdotal evidence suggests that they find the complaints process overly bureaucratic or complicated.

We continue to welcome the fact that we receive complaints from advocates, solicitors and charities made on behalf of young people. In the following case study the Howard League, acting on behalf of a number of young men at a Young Offenders Institution (YOI), submitted complaints about the use of segregation.

The Howard League complained that a number of young men had spent prolonged periods in the Segregation Unit, spending at least 22 hours a day in their cells without any meaningful human contact. They said that this breached YOI rules as well as the young men’s rights under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act. In considering all of the complaints, we were satisfied that the decisions to locate each of the young men in the Segregation Unit were justified in the circumstances. However, in some of the cases, we were concerned that the segregation paperwork had not been fully completed and, in all cases, we were concerned about the quality and timeliness of the segregation review process and/or the regime that was available to each of the young men.Although we appreciated the considerable challenges the YOI faced in managing some of the young men in the Segregation Unit, we concluded that more had to be done to improve the regime for those held in the unit. We upheld or partially upheld all the complaints and made a number of recommendations across the different investigations, all of which were accepted.

The most common cause of complaint from young people was missing property, but we also investigated two complaints about use of force. Prison service policy on the use of force against young people is clear that staff must always: view the physical restraint of a young person as the last resort; use techniques to de-escalate the situation before resorting to force; apply the least force necessary for the shortest period of time. These investigations require us to very carefully consider all the circumstances, as in the case of Mr K.

Mr K, then aged 17, complained that staff at the YOI had assaulted him by slamming his head against the floor and used excessive force while restraining him. We viewed the CCTV footage covering the incident, which showed that Mr K had been using the wing telephone when he was assaulted by another prisoner. A large number of staff responded and began to restrain Mr K. The staff eventually moved Mr K to his cell and it was here that Mr K claimed they assaulted him by slamming his head against the floor. Unfortunately, none of the staff involved were wearing body worn cameras so there was no footage of the incident. We found that while the restraint and initial use of force was justified, the ongoing management of the incident was poor. We saw no obvious attempts by staff to talk to Mr K or de-escalate the incident before they restrained him; too many staff were involved in the restraint (we counted 11 at one point); and the incident paperwork suggested that pain-inducing techniques had been used, although we could not identify who had used these techniques or why. Some of the concerns we identified echoed those previously raised by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons during his last inspection of the YOI.As a result of our concerns, we upheld Mr K’s complaint and made a number of recommendations. The YOI did not accept our finding that the force used against Mr K was excessive.