Solitary confinement for 16 year old in breach of human rights, High Court rules
The High Court has ruled that Feltham prison breached the human rights of a 16 year-old boy by holding him in solitary confinement for extensive periods. For background, see earlier report on the Justice Gap (here).
The ruling, brought by the Howard League for Penal Reform on behalf of the child, deemed that the boy was denied access to education and the opportunity to associate with other inmates. However, the court rejected the claim that the treatment was ‘inhuman and degrading’.
The boy, referred to during the trial as AB, has been held in solitary confinement for more than 100 days, ‘almost the entirety of his time’ since arriving at Feltham in December. For much of the time he was held in his cell for 23 and a hour hours a day, and granted very minimal access to educational provision. The Equality and Human Rights Commission was granted permission to intervene in the case.
Lawyers representing AB, who suffers from considerable mental health issues, argued that AB’s treatment amounted to ‘cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment’. They warned that solitary confinement was a ‘common and systemic practice at Feltham’.
Lawyers representing the Justice Secretary Liz Truss accepted that there had been ‘procedural errors’ in the teenagers case, but denied that the ‘regime to which the claimant has been subjected was unlawful’, arguing that AB’s history of staff assault and ‘racist taunts’ posed risk to good order at Feltham.
Mr Justice Ouseley ruled: ‘I shall make a declaration that Article 8 [on the right to a private and family life] was breached because the interference with his rights was not in accordance with the law.’
Responding to the ruling, Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: ‘This is an important judgment. The court has declared this boy’s isolation for certain periods and the denial of adequate education unlawful because it was against prison rules.’
She added: ‘It is disappointing that the court stopped short of accepting that keeping AB in isolation for over 22 hours a day was degrading and inhuman treatment. We will be seeking to appeal this part of the ruling.’
The ruling comes after the release of an official inspectorate report on the prison, which declared that Feltham YOI ran a regime ‘unsuitable for prisoners of any age’ – as reported yesterday on the Justice Gap here. 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.’
As well as escalating incidents of violence, the report detailed a regime where boys are let out of their cells for just 4.5 hours daily, with some receiving just ten minutes of fresh air a day. On average, boys receive just 7.5 hours of schooling each week, with 19,000 hours of teaching lost through non-attendance and class cancellations.
The UK remains outside of growing international agreement that children should never be placed in solitary confinement.
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