Feltham ‘not safe for either staff or boys’, says inspector
Children and young people at Feltham prison are unsafe, afraid, and ‘enduring a regime that was unsuitable for prisoners of any age,’ a recent inspection has found.
The findings were published in two reports by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons on Feltham A, which holds boys, and Feltham B, which houses young men.
In Feltham A, violence levels have increased to a rate of 378 incidents per 100 children, up from 273 at the time of the last inspection in August 2015. Some particularly serious violent episodes have involved weapons and included multiple cases of assault. Of the 17 safety recommendations made by the inspectorate at the last inspection, just three had been achieved.
Staff are struggling to manage this violence, with the report identifying poor victim support and behaviour management that is too focused on imposing punitive sanctions. According to the report, the restricted regime to which many children are subjected ‘did little or nothing’ to contribute to the ‘education, socialisation or, clearly, their safety’.
Similar problems are faced in Feltham B, where one in four young men said they felt unsafe at the time of the inspection. Again, the inspectorate deemed punitive methods to be ineffective solutions to these issues, while the incentives and earned privileges scheme appeared to be having minimal impact on behaviour.
Some boys are still held in segregation, a shared facility across both sites but an environment the inspectorate deems unsuitable for children. Some staff employed control and restraint techniques only intended for use in adult prisons, while there was also evidence that some held in special accommodation had been given just a blanket or anti-tear gown to wear after being strip searched.
Staff also feel unsafe, with one serious assault occurring on an officer during the inspection period. Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke, writing in the report’s introduction, said: ‘Feltham A is, quite simply, not safe for either staff or boys.’
Purposeful activity in Feltham A has sunk to its lowest level. On average, boys receive just 7.5 hours of schooling each week – half of the number set out in official rules. The inspectorate found 40% of boys locked up during the school day, with 19,000 hours of teaching lost through non-attendance and class cancellations.
Boys eat every meal alone in their cells and are out of their cells for just 4.5 hours each day, far down on the inspectorate’s standard of 10 hours. Some received just 10 minutes in the open air each day, an issue the inspectorate warns must have serious long-term wellbeing and health implications. ‘The awarding of our lowest grade for purposeful activity was inevitable,’ its report reads.
In Feltham B, inspectors found some young men who were locked in their cells for more than 22 hours a day and faced with extensive regime restrictions and cancellations. Still, the report recognises that staff are working hard in particularly challenging environments, and highlights several areas of practise, especially in the field of mental health care, that ‘committed members of staff…can be proud of’.
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: ‘These are two of the worst in a long line of terrible prison inspection reports. It is all the more disturbing that they concern children and young people.’
She added: ‘These children are suffering abuse and neglect by the state. Feltham has failed to care for children and help them turn their lives around for decades. It is time to put an end to this abusive failing system and properly help children live law-abiding lives’.
Piers is presently working for a charity which promotes children's rights. He was online editor at Not Shut Up, a magazine celebrating prisoner creativity