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Vulnerable children in custody forcibly stripped, inappropriate pain-inducing techniques of restraint and inadequate oversight at HMYOI Wetherby

Some of the most vulnerable children in the country are being stripped of their clothing under restraint with far too little oversight and accountability and inappropriate use of pain-inducing techniques, a report by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons has found.

While all institutions holding children are faced with high levels of need, Wetherby held a particularly complex group including children with a level of risk equivalent to Category A adult men and those requiring support or interventions from multiple agencies. Nearly half of the children had previously been in local authority care, and the YOI held some extremely vulnerable girls giving the YOI the highest rate of self-harm of any prison in the country with officers often having to intervene multiple times at night to stop girls ligaturing. Despite their known risk in this area, inspectors were shocked to find all-male teams of officers forcibly restraining a girl to remove her clothing to prevent her self-harming not once but twice.

We were deeply shocked to find adult male officers restraining and stripping an incredibly vulnerable girl not once but twice. 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 and, given how predictable the behaviour of this particular girl was, the YOI has no excuse not to have made sure that female officers were in attendance.

Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

The use of force was of wider concern, including the frequency of strip-searching under restraint. Twenty-four children had been strip-searched in the last 12 months with 12 of those occurring under restraint. Although leaders had recorded the decision to carry out a strip-search, none had recorded the authority to use restraint. Pain-inducing techniques had been applied nine times in the last 12 months and on every occasion had been deemed inappropriate by the Independent Review of Restraint Panel. Leaders were also not consistently reviewing footage of use of force, creating serious gaps in its oversight, and inspectors found evidence of poor practice, including the restraint of a child which resulted in an injury that had not been referred to senior leaders.

Not enough was being done to make sure children were kept in reasonable conditions. The inspection took place during the winter, and 31% of children said they felt cold in their cell. The heating was unreliable, and some children had cell window vents that were broken and slept in their day clothes to keep warm. Children who were separated from their peers for their own protection or in response to an incident spent up to 23.5 hours a day in these conditions.

Wetherby holds some of the most challenging children in the country, and it is a credit to the governor that most relationships between staff and children were relatively positive compared with other YOIs. However it was scarcely credible in a jail holding just 165 children with 24 senior managers and 67 other managers that leaders told us they could not give children frequent, structured contact with staff because of a shortage of officers. In our last report we criticised the size of leadership team that meant lines of responsibility and accountability were opaque, so it was disappointing this had not been rectified.

Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

Notes to editors

  1. This inspection was carried out between 20 November – 7 December 2023.
  2. Wetherby is a Young Offender Institution in Yorkshire holding males, females and restricted status children, who are assessed as carrying the equivalent level of risk as a Category A adult male prisoner.
  3. More than a quarter of children held at Wetherby were on remand.
  4. A copy of the full report, published on 5 March 2023, can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at:
  5. HM Inspectorate of Prisons is an independent inspectorate, inspecting places of detention to report on conditions and treatment and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public.
  6. Please email if you would like more information.