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Coronavirus has left young people in detention facilities highly vulnerable to Human Rights abuses

12 June 2020

Today the Joint Committee on Human Rights have published their Report, "Human Rights and the Government's response to COVID-19: the detention of young people who are autistic and/or have learning disabilities", which finds that the coronavirus crisis has resulted in human rights abuses. Young people's rights are at risk through unlawful blanket bans on visits, the suspension of routine inspections, increased use of restraint and solitary confinement, and the vulnerability of those in detention to infection with Covid-19.

Last year the Joint Committee on Human Rights published a Report on the detention of young people who are autistic and/or have learning disabilities in Assessment and Treatment Units (ATUs) and other mental health hospitals, which concluded that young people's human rights are being abused; they are detained unlawfully, contrary to their right to liberty, subjected to solitary confinement, and deprived of the right to family life.
Following the launch of the Committee's inquiry into the Government response to Covid-19, the Committee revisited this issue, looking at the effect of coronavirus lockdown measures on young people who are detained. On May 18, the Committee heard from parents of young people who are autistic and/or have a learning disability and are currently detained under the Mental Health Act 1983, as well as the Care Quality Commission and NHS England and NHS Improvement.

The Committee heard that the mothers of these young people had serious concerns about their treatment, and have therefore produced a Report that outlines the key actions that must be taken to ensure that these young people have their human rights upheld. 

These include:

  • NHS England must write immediately to all hospitals, including private ones in which it commissions placements, stating that they must allow families to visit their loved ones, unless a risk assessment has been carried out relating to the individual's circumstances which demonstrates that there are clear reasons specific to the individual's circumstances why it would not be safe to do so.
  • Figures on the use of restrictive practice, including physical and medical restraint and any form of segregation, detailing any incidences which go beyond 22 hours per day and amount to solitary confinement, must be published weekly by the institutions. These figures must be provided to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and reported to Parliament;
  • The Care Quality Commission (CQC) should carry out all their inspections unannounced; this is particularly important where any allegation of abuse is reported.
  • The CQC must prioritise in-person inspections at institutions with a history of abuse/malpractice, and those which have been rated inadequate/requires improvement;
  • The CQC should set up a telephone hotline to enable all patients, families, and staff to report concerns or complaints during this period;
  • Now, more than ever, rapidly progressing the discharge of young people to safe homes in the community must be a top priority for the Government; and
  • Comprehensive data about the number of those who are autistic and/or learning disabled who have contracted and died of Covid-19 must be made available and include a focus on those in detention, for whom the state has heightened responsibility for their right to life.

Chair's comments

The Chair of the Committee, Harriet Harman MP, said:

"Even in normal circumstances there is not sufficient protection against abuse of young people with autism and/or who have learning disabilities are at risk of abuse.  But the risk is even greater under lockdown with parental visits banned in some institutions and without routine inspections. 
The JCHR is telling the government that protecting these young people is urgent and makes tough recommendations including ensuring parental visits are permitted discharging as many of the young people as possible into the community and a telephone hotline for reporting abuse. There's always a danger to vulnerable people in closed institutions. The COVID-19 lockdown increases that danger and the government must recognise it and take action"

Further information

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