UK Politics

Use of force at secure college 'against human rights'

Youth offender Image copyright PA

Plans to allow staff at a new "secure college" to use force to ensure discipline must be watered down, a committee of MPs has said.

The use of force would breach young offenders' human rights, they say.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling unveiled detailed plans for the £85m facility in Leicestershire, to open in 2017, this week.

The unit, the first of its kind in England and Wales, will house up to 320 offenders aged 12 to 17.

It is meant to be a move away from the "traditional environment of bars on windows" and focus instead on education.

Young offenders are currently sent to either a secure training centre or a young offender institution, depending on their age and offences.

'Last resort'

They spend an average of 12 hours a week in education while in detention. The new college, which will mostly house people from the East Midlands and East of England, will double that.

Parliament's joint committee on human rights said proposals in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill to allow authorised staff to use "reasonable force where necessary to ensure good order and discipline" was a clear breach of international standards.

Young offenders

  • 95% are boys
  • 89% are aged between 15 and 17
  • 4% are aged 10-14
  • 71% reoffend within a year of leaving custody
  • 46% of adults leaving prison reoffend
  • Secure children's homes: 166 places
  • Secure training centres: 301 beds
  • Young offender institutions: 1,311 beds

"The bill should be amended to make explicit that secure college rules can only authorise the use of reasonable force on children as a last resort; only for the purposes of preventing harm to the child or others; and that only the minimum force necessary should be used," the committee said.

A Court of Appeal ruling had made it clear "that it is incompatible with Articles 3 and 8 ECHR [European Convention on Human Rights] for any law, whether primary or secondary legislation, to authorise the use of force on children and young people for the purposes of good order and discipline", they said.

Pornography law

The committee accused the Ministry of Justice of failing to take into account the rights afforded children under a number of international agreements to which the UK is a signatory, despite earlier agreeing that it would do this.

It also found that ministers had failed to provide sufficient "clear and transparent justifications" for the proposed imposition in the bill of increased sentences for some terror offences.

But it welcomed the plans to use the legislation to outlaw the possession of pornography showing rape.

There were approximately 1,300 people in youth custody at the end of 2013.

Ministers hope that secure colleges will be vastly cheaper than the current four secure training centres (STCs), which it wants to close.

It costs almost £250m annually to detain young offenders, with each place in an STC costing an average of £178,000.

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