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In response to findings of intrusive and traumatic strip searching of girls living at Wetherby Young Offenders Institute by HMI Prisons, Children’s Commissioner for England Dame Rachel de Souza said:

“As Children’s Commissioner, I am appalled by the findings in HMIP’s report. Strip searching is an intrusive and potentially traumatic power, as I’ve shown in my work with police. In the rare cases it’s appropriate to strip search a child, there must be an absolute cast-iron compliance with safeguards, and a child never strip searched by a member of the opposite sex.

“The girls who are in Wetherby’s Keppel Unit are some of the most vulnerable children in the country, and it’s not appropriate for them to be placed in settings for boys. My Help at Hand advocacy service has supported some of these children and I know the challenges that they face. It’s a failure of our system of secure care that they have ended up here without an appropriate plan for their care. I will be using my statutory powers to visit Wetherby to talk to the children there.

“I have been ringing warning bells about safety and conditions for children in custody, particularly around safety in the failing young offender institutions. Too many children are being incarcerated rather than cared for.

“Today I will write to the Justice Secretary Alex Chalk to ask what has been done to improve conditions since I last raised these concerns with him. We need a new system of secure care, but in the meantime, we need children to be in care led settings, rather than prison. These children need care, education, and enrichment.”

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