Youth detention: solitary confinement and restraint Contents

1Introduction

Purpose of this report

1.Many institutions that detain children (i.e. people aged under 18 years) are permitted to physically restrain children and to separate children from normal human contact. Restraint can include controversial methods (as discussed in Chapter 2), and separation includes a range of practices including total isolation (as discussed in Chapter 3).1 The practices of restraint and separation engage the rights of children under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR): Article 2, the right to life; Article 3, the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment; Article 5, the right to liberty and security; Article 8, respect for private and family life. These practices also engage further protections under international law, including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. We undertook this inquiry to assess whether the practices of restraint and separation of children in detention in the UK are subject to appropriate limits and effective safeguards. This report seeks to answer three questions that were set out in the inquiry’s terms of reference:2

Scope of our inquiry

2.We considered several different types of institution, as set out below. These institutions detain around 2,500 children at any one time:3 some for care, treatment or welfare reasons, and some because of criminal offences.4 Each type of institution has its own terminology and rules governing the use of restraint and the use of separation from human contact.

3.The original scope of this inquiry included children who are serving custodial sentences in Young Offenders’ Institutes and Secure Training Centres, and children who are detained for reasons of mental health in CAHMS units. During the inquiry, we received evidence about Secure Children’s Homes, which we have considered as part of this inquiry, but in insufficient detail to reach firm conclusions. We additionally sought evidence about autistic children and children with learning disabilities who are detained in Assessment and Treatment Units (ATUs) and other inpatient units, some of which we have considered in this inquiry, and some of which we are considering as part of a further inquiry into the appropriateness of placements for these children.9

4.The Committee was greatly assisted by the many individuals and organisations that submitted evidence, most of which (excluding that which we were asked to keep confidential) is available on the Committee’s website.10 These included staff who work with the children and who helped us to appreciate the challenging situations; representatives and advocates who act on behalf of the children; inspectors and monitoring bodies; and Government Ministers and officials. We are particularly grateful to “Rosie” and “William”, who spoke of their experiences in detention, “Jay”, who wanted to speak with the Committee but was unable to do so due to personal circumstances, and the parents who gave accounts of their children’s experiences in detention. They showed great courage in conveying difficult experiences to help us to understand the impacts on children and their families.11

5.The evidence that we received mostly referred to the situations in England. Health matters are devolved to Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland; justice matters are devolved to Northern Ireland and Scotland. The exact definitions and functions of institutions differ in some cases across the UK. However, our recommendations to the UK Government and its agencies may also be of relevance to the Devolved Administrations.

Human rights framework for detention of children

6.The UK has signed up to international agreements that protect people’s rights, and as the Joint Committee of Human Rights we consider whether the UK abides by those commitments. The decision to detain anyone is in itself a significant matter, constituting a restriction of the right to liberty (ECHR Article 5), which can only be done with sufficient justification, for example as punishment for a crime or for certain medical reasons. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) states that the imprisonment of a child shall be used “only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time”.12

7.The European Convention on Human Rights, which applies to adults and children alike, states in Article 3 that: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the UK has ratified, states in Article 37 that: “No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” and that “every child deprived of liberty shall be treated … in a manner which takes into account the needs of persons of his or her age”.13 The Committee on the Rights of the Child (which monitors compliance with the UNCRC) has stated that: “Any disciplinary measure must be consistent with upholding the inherent dignity of the juvenile and the fundamental objectives of institutional care; disciplinary measures in violation of article 37 of CRC must be strictly forbidden, including corporal punishment, placement in a dark cell, closed or solitary confinement, or any other punishment that may compromise the physical or mental health or well-being of the child concerned.”14

8.The UK has accepted international obligations, and incorporated certain obligations into domestic law, to ensure that children are not be subject to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. The Government must comply with its international and domestic obligations and ensure that children in detention are treated with appropriate care.


1 We use the term ‘separation from normal human contact’ or ‘separation’ to refer to a range of practices and terms used in different institutions; these are discussed in Chapter 3. Where appropriate, we use the term ‘solitary confinement’, as defined in international law.

2 Youth Detention: Restraint and Solitary Confinement: Terms of Reference

3 In this report, we use the term to refer to under 18 year-olds but some of our comments and recommendations refer to young people over 18, and we make clear where this is the case.

4 This figure is does not include children held in police custody.

5 Source of data for England: NHS England, 2017–18 NHS Benchmarking CAMHS Data, 2018. Different Acts pertaining to mental health apply in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

6 Source of data for England: NHS Digital Learning Disability Services Monthly Statistics - AT: October 2018, MHSDS: August 2018, November 2018. Different Acts pertaining to mental health and mental capacity apply in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

7 Source of data for England and Wales: Ministry of Justice, Youth Justice Statistics 2017–18, Table 7.1, January 2019

9 Detention of children and young people with learning disabilities and/or autism: Terms of reference

10 Evidence for inquiry on Youth Detention: Restraint and Solitary Confinement. This report also cites evidence taken at an evidence session on Conditions in learning disability inpatient units, and the subsequent inquiry into Detention of children and young people with learning disabilities and/or autism.

11 The young people gave evidence anonymously and are hereinafter referred to by their pseudonyms, Rosie and William. In the transcript of her evidence session, Rosie is referred to as “Witness B”.

12 United Nations, The United Nations Convention on the rights of the child, Article 37, UNCRC, November 1989

13 United Nations, The United Nations Convention on the rights of the child, Article 37, UNCRC, November 1989

14 UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), General Comment No. 10 on Children’s rights in juvenile justice, April 2007, paragraph 89




Published: 18 April 2019