Skip Content

Don’t let PAVA spray be used on children

We will take whatever steps necessary, including legal action, to challenge the rollout of this weapon to prisons holding children.

The Howard League needs your help. We understand that the Ministry of Justice 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.

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. This would be particularly damaging in prisons holding children, where positive relationships are essential to ensure that children are safeguarded and supported.

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. This would be catastrophic in prisons holding children, where children already experience frequent use of force and where HM Chief Inspector of Prisons has said that the system is “failing to help children learn better ways to manage frustration and conflict”.

Official statistics for the deployment of PAVA spray in adult prisons indicate that a Black person is significantly more likely to be sprayed than a White person. It raises serious questions about any plan to extend the use of PAVA spray to children’s prisons, which hold disproportionately large numbers of children from racialised minorities and where 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?

How you can help

If you use social media, you can post about the campaign to show your support and tell others what we are doing. Click here for posts you can share on X, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Threads.

Please consider joining the Howard League as a member. This is the best way to help – enabling us not only to challenge the rollout of PAVA spray, but also to do further work to build a more humane and effective response to crime.

Find out more

Looking for more information? Visit our PAVA spray Q & A page for further details about PAVA spray and why it would be shameful to expand its use to prisons holding children.

TV debate: “Evidence is against the use of PAVA spray”

In November 2023, we appeared on Channel 4 News to explain why we oppose the rollout of PAVA spray to prisons holding children.

In a seven-minute debate with the POA, our Chief Executive, Andrea Coomber KC (Hon.), told the programme: “The evidence is against the use of PAVA spray. The review of its use in the adult estate in 2018 showed that it actually didn’t act to quell violence; all it did, really, was undermine confidence and trust of people who were being sprayed.

“We need strong positive relationships between prison staff and children, and I think we should not minimise what this is. This is a weapon that is prohibited under the Firearms Act 1968.”

Watch the video

Andrea Coomber KC (Hon.) appears on Channel 4 News to discuss PAVA spray in November 2023

Andrea Coomber KC (Hon.) appears on Channel 4 News to discuss PAVA spray in November 2023


  • Join the Howard League

    We are the world's oldest prison charity, bringing people together to advocate for change.

    Join us and make your voice heard
  • Support our work

    We safeguard our independence and do not accept any funding from government.

    Make a donation