Labour say youth custody is ‘in crisis’ as inspectors reveal mounting violence and self-harm in Feltham Children’s Unit

An HM Inspectorate of Prisons report into Feltham Young Offenders Institute has revealed a massive increase in violence and self-harm, over a quarter of children locked in their cell for the whole work day and nearly two thirds reported having been physically restrained by staff.

Shadow Justice Minister Imran Hussain said youth custody was “in crisis” and called on the Government to urgently set out a plan to ensure that children in Feltham are safe 

HMYOI Feltham A in west London, home to up to 180 boys aged 15 – 18, was now not safe enough. There was a significant increase in the number of children self-harming and children, the report warned, were “locked up, often alone, for extended periods.”

In the inspection survey, some 13% of children said they currently felt unsafe and levels of violence had increased significantly since 2018. 

In the six months to the 2019 inspection there were 230 incidents of violence, a return to the high levels reported in 2017. 

Nearly two-thirds of children said they had been physically restrained and the use of force by staff had increased. 

Only around a third of children could shower every day.

Responding to HM Inspectorate of Prisons report, Imran Hussain MP, Labour’s Shadow Justice Minister, said: 

“There are deep concerns about the profound failure of the youth custodial estate to keep vulnerable children safe. The shocking findings in this report will only add to these fears.

“Labour has repeatedly warned about the youth estate and Feltham in particular, and the significant increase in violence and appalling levels of self-harm identified in this report demonstrates the dire crisis the youth custody estate is in.

“The Government needs to urgently set out a plan to ensure that children in Feltham are safe.”

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said:

“More needed to be done to improve purposeful activity… In light of the clear warning in our last report, it was disappointing to be told that… there had been an interregnum when Feltham had been left without a governor for a period of five months.

“A new governor was now in post and beginning to stabilise the establishment, but it was evident to us that there had been a degree of drift resulting in deteriorating outcomes, notably in safety and care.”

Mr Clarke added: “Oversight and scrutiny were… lacking and we found evidence of poor practice, including the use of pain-inducing techniques, that had not been accounted for.”

Too few children felt respected by staff and many suggested they felt victimised. 

Inspectors saw patient and caring encounters, but found that many staff were too preoccupied with keeping children apart to be able to develop trusting relationships. Nearly half of children said they had no one to turn to for help. 

“The residential environment had deteriorated and we could best describe many cells as spartan,” Mr Clarke added.

Inspectors found 26% of children locked in their cells during the working day, a situation that was worse than last year and overall very poor. 

Inspectors will take the unusual step of returning in July for another inspection this year.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “It is absolutely depressing, but not surprising to see Feltham once again slump into further problems around safety, after slight improvements registered by inspectors last year. 

“It is a scandal that thousands of children have gone through its walls over the decades and experienced poor treatment, violence and abusive treatment.

“With such high levels of violence, escalating self-injury among children, and nearly two-thirds of boys experiencing physical restraint, the truth is Feltham is an irredeemably flawed institution.”

The Howard League runs a free phoneline for young people in custody. The highest amount of calls from any children’s custodial facility came from Feltham. 

In April after 20 staff were injured over the course of one weekend, the institution was branded ill-equipped to deal with troubled children by critics.

The facility had been struggling to keep gang rivalries at bay.

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