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Thu, 2 July 2020

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The wrongful detention of young people with learning disabilities must end now

The wrongful detention of young people with learning disabilities must end now

Wrongful detention is a breach of human rights, as is unjustified forcible restraint and solitary confinement. We cannot turn aside from what is happening to these young people, says Harriet Harman MP |Credit: PA Images

4 min read

Young people with autism and/or learning disabilities are facing unjustified detention during lockdown. This is a breach of human rights.

Lockdown has been a very different experience for different people. But one thing lockdown has done is exacerbate existing problems. That is most certainly the case for young people who are in detention because they have autism and/or learning disabilities.

In the last Parliament, the Joint Committee on Human Rights reported that there was no proper protection for the human rights of these detained young people. 

Currently there are about 600 detained in around a hundred units. We heard that many of them should not have been detained in the first place and would not have been were there adequate support services for them and their families in the community.

Once detained and separated from everything that was trusted and familiar, we heard that all too often their condition deteriorated. In response to that deterioration, solidarity confinement for up to 22 hours a day or forcible restraint was commonplace.

Parental visits are key to supporting the young person and keeping a close eye on how they are being cared for.

We found that the regulator, the CQC, was no protection against abuse and, worse, lulled people into a false sense of security. We found that the best guarantors of the human rights of such young people were regrettably, not the courts or the regulators but their parents, the people who know them best and care most about them.

Parental visits are key to supporting the young person and keeping a close eye on how they are being cared for.

So we were very concerned to hear from parents that as soon as the coronavirus lockdown took place, parental visits were banned. 

Though NHS England had said that local units could allow visits for people with autism and/or learning disabilities, in practice those visits were not taking place.

As part of our broad ranging inquiry into human rights in lockdown, we took evidence from Adele Green and Andrea Attree who told us the heartbreaking effect banning visits was having. Adele was distraught to hear from Eddie that he wanted to end his life.

Report recommendations

The Joint Committee on Human Rights reported on 12th June proposing a number of key actions that need to be taken.

Firstly, NHS England must immediately write to all units stating that they must allow families to visit unless there is an overriding reason not to. They must insist that the default position is to allow visits and keep an eye on its implementation. It’s not good enough just to issue guidance. They’ve got to make sure it’s being complied with.

Figures on the number of times young people under the age of 25 are kept in solitary confinement or forcibly restrained must be collected and published weekly by institution, reported to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and to Parliament.

Solitary confinement and forcible restraint are extreme measures and must not be commonplace An increase in their use is a warning that there are other problems in that institution. 

The CQC must carry out unannounced inspections, giving priority to those 14 institutions that are already marked down as inadequate or in Special Measures.

It’s appalling to think of young people locked up in institutions which are inadequate or failing. 

There’s no point in announced inspections which, as was so horrifically revealed by the BBC expose into Whorlton Hall, merely provide the opportunity to engage in a cover up of abuse.

They must get on with the discharge of these young people back to their family home or community setting.

Wrongful detention is a breach of human rights, as is unjustified forcible restraint and solitary confinement. We cannot turn aside from what is happening to these young people.

This needs no further review, just the urgent implementation of our recommendations.

Harriet Harman is Labour MP for Camberwell and Peckham and chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights

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