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Howard League blog · 12 Apr 2024

Don’t let PAVA spray be used on children

Today the Howard League launches a new campaign. We understand that the government is deliberating whether to authorise the use of PAVA spray on children in prison. We are preparing to take whatever steps necessary to challenge it, including potential legal action – and we need your support.

PAVA is a chemical irritant spray that can cause severe pain. It is classified under law as a prohibited weapon, but staff have been given power to use it in prisons holding men. Now ministers are considering whether to expand its use to prisons holding children. A decision could come any day now.

When PAVA spray was piloted in prisons holding adults, the evaluation findings indicated that it did nothing to reduce violence and in fact had a detrimental effect on relationships between staff and the people living there.

The findings from the pilot project also showed that, on multiple occasions, PAVA spray was not used properly or safely, and misuse has continued since it was rolled out across adult prisons. Official statistics show entrenched disproportionality in the impact of PAVA spray, including that a Black person in prison is significantly more likely to be sprayed than a White person. [You can read more about PAVA spray and how it has been used in the prison system to date here.]

These trends show that a rollout of PAVA spray would be catastrophic in prisons holding children, where force is used frequently and where the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Charlie Taylor, has said that the system is “failing to help children learn better ways to manage frustration and conflict”.

Only last month, we blogged about figures which show children being held in their cells routinely for up to 21 hours per day. These prisons hold disproportionately large numbers of children from racialised minorities, and there are already concerns about how much use of force these children are subjected to.

What does it say about a system when its leaders feel they need the power to spray chemicals in the eyes of children?

Click here for the key points about the campaign, and to watch a video of our Chief Executive, Andrea Coomber KC (Hon.) discussing the issue on Channel 4 News.


  • Louisa Maskell says:

    Using Pava at all is appalling and cruel. It must not be used on children!

  • Zana Dean says:

    Please phase out the use in adult prisons and don’t use on children.

  • Lee Morgan says:

    You have to wonder why we outlawed corporal punishment in schools when faced with Dickensian attitudes like this.

    We seem to do round in circles, from one bad idea to another and back again. I for one am sick and tired of listening to the same rhetoric surfacing simply because politicians don’t have the bandwidth to come up with something original that works.

    A bunch of halfwits, the whole bally lot of them!

  • Tess Berry-Hart says:

    Spraying chemical irritants at incarcerated people, whether children or adult, is a clear violation of human rights and state sanctioned violence!

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