Wednesday 6 March 2013

Worrying trends - No. 4 ~ Strip Searches of the young

An article published by Open Democracy highlighted the fact that, in the 21 months up to December 2012, 43960 strip searches took place of children and young persons. 

Two years ago this month, the Youth Justice Board (YJB) announced the end of routine strip searching in children’s secure establishments. (View its press release here).   Despite the promise to move to risk-based strip-searching, official data shows thousands of locked up children are still being forced to expose their naked bodies to adults in authority.

The Guardian, in its letters page (5th March), published a letter from Professor Phil Scraton  Director, Childhood, Transition and Social Justice Initiative, Queen's University Belfast:

"Institutionalised child abuse" is an accurate description of this egregious breach of children's rights (Thousands of children are still being strip-searched in custody, 3 March). As John Drew, chief executive of the Youth Justice Board, knows full well, this widespread dehumanisation and humiliation of children breaches the UN convention on the rights of the child and is inflicted on those, often most vulnerable, for whom his state body has a duty of care.

As a signatory to the convention, the UK government and its agencies are committed to upholding the rights of children established in articles and protocols and clarified in the UN committee's General Comments. A central obligation, particularly for those held in custody, is the principle of the "best interests of the child". Children also have a right to privacy and bodily integrity. The extent of strip-searching demonstrates the neglect of best interests and the denial of privacy.

Those of us who have worked and researched with children and young people are well aware of the severe damage caused by the reality, fear and intimidation inflicted by strip-searches. Also our work with women in prison clearly revealed that the suffering endured is universal and not restricted only to women or children previously abused. For John Drew to seek justification in the dubious criteria of "risk assessment" is unacceptable. It is well-established that the threat and reality of strip-searching is punitive, administered as an extension of discretionary power, and rarely associated with evidenced risk or imminent danger.

A further letter from several bodies concerned with criminal justice was published:

That some of society's most vulnerable children are subjected to routine strip-searching is deeply shocking and requires urgent action. In any other setting such treatment would be viewed as child abuse. The automatic strip-searching of women prisoners ended in April 2009 following the review by Baroness Corston, who described strip-searching as "humiliating, degrading and undignified". We know from our work with children in custody and their families that such treatment contributes to distress and self-harm, and the risk of suicide. We call upon ministers to 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.

Deborah Coles Co-director, Inquest, Frances Crook Chief executive, Howard League for Penal Reform, Shauneen Lambe Executive director, Just for Kids Law, Juliet Lyon Director, Prison Reform Trust, Paola Uccellari Director, Children's Rights Alliance for England, Carolyne Willow Children's rights campaigner, Dr Hilary Emery Chief executive, National Children's Bureau, Matthew Reed Chief executive, The Children's Society

Here are the Department for Education's webpages on The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child  The rights are summarised here.

In January 2006, Lord Carlile QC's report on the use of physical restraints, strip searching and seclusion of children in custody  was published. A good summary of the report is at Community Care 17th February 2006.   Carlile found that children are regularly put through “demeaning and dehumanising” strip-searching, painful physical restraint and long periods of isolation.  Strip searching is considered at pages 53 to 59 of the Carlile Report.  The report did not recommend that strip searches cease altogether.  Rather, Carlile recommended that  searches could be reduced by at least 50% by applying a more evidence based approach, without risk to security or safety being significantly increase.

In 2011, the Youth Justice Board published a Review of Full searches in the secure estate for children and young persons.    

See also Minority Perspective 5th March 2013 - where it is argued 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. Staff must be required to undertake this intrusive process in a humane and dignified manner, which includes providing children with gowns; refraining from shouting at, and verbally insulting, them; and never, ever cutting off their clothes.

Worrying trends No. 1 ~ Lawyers as Gate keepers

Worrying trends No. 2 ~ Open Justice Assailed

Worrying trends No. 3 ~ Upholding the Queen's Peace

1 comment:

  1. Just wait for the uproar when the knife concealed in some un-stripsearched child's underwear kills or injures another child . . .