Teenagers are being routinely strip-searched in a young offenders’ institution despite inspectors recommending that the practice should be stopped, a report has said.
Nick Hardwick, the chief inspector of prisons, said it was “disappointing that routine strip-searching remained in place” at Wetherby Young Offenders’ Institution in West Yorkshire, which houses more than 300 boys and men aged 15-18.
All the teenagers who were admitted and discharged were strip-searched without any risk-assessment taking place first and despite the introduction of Body Orifice Security Scanner (Boss) chairs, the inspectors said.
A previous recommendation that the practice should be stopped had not been put in place, they said.
“Strip-searches were still carried out without risk assessments,” the report said. “Routine strip-searching took place in reception for young people arriving and departing despite the introduction of a Boss chair and wand detector in reception.”
The institution also failed to stop mandatory drug testing and “all young people still had to undergo strip-searching as a matter of routine”, the inspectors said. In the future, strip-searches should only be used where it “is necessary to prevent the risk of harm to the young person and other”, they said.
The report, based on a follow-up inspection in August, also found “the use of force was not limited to situations where there was an immediate threat to safety”.
There were 285 incidents where force was used between January and July this year, with 70% of these relating to “low level fights and assaults”. But in three in 20 incidents, the force was used simply “to gain compliance with establishment rules”.
The inspectors said: “The use of force should only be used as a last resort and where there is immediate risk to safety and not merely to obtain compliance.”
A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman added: “Restraint is only ever used by staff as a last resort when a young person’s behaviour puts themselves or others at serious risk. During such incidents the interests and safety of everyone involved – the young person, other young people, staff and visitors – are considered.”