Child protection arrangements improve at prison, say inspectors

An inspection report published today (9 May) states the London Borough of Hounslow has improved its child protection scrutiny and action in response to abuse allegations from boys in Feltham prison. This has previously been an area of great concern for Article 39.

The report says inspectors “found examples of improvements to safeguarding practice as a direct result of the oversight provided by the local authority” and children who made abuse allegations were “well supported”.

In the six months prior to the inspection, which was undertaken between December and January 2018, 25 child protection referrals had been made to the local authority from the prison. Most of these related to the use of force and inspectors comment that all of them “were appropriate”. The report does not indicate the outcome of these referrals.

Inspectors report there had been 17 uses of pain-inducing restraint in six months. This is where officers deliberately inflict pain on children – a practice condemned by many bodies including the UN Committee Against Torture.

The segregation unit remained a “grim environment”:

Cells [in the segregation unit] were stark and poorly furnished and many were dirty. Communal areas were dirty and shabby. Conditions in the special accommodation cells (stark, unfurnished cells with no beds, toilets or sinks) were particularly grim. Use of these cells had reduced since the last inspection from 14 to four instances, but we were not assured that use was justified on every occasion…

Staff treated boys well and we saw examples of angry boys being dealt with patiently by calm officers. However, the regime was impoverished and remained punitive. Boys had limited access to telephone calls, showers and exercise which mirrored poor regimes in adult segregation units. Boys were not permitted televisions and had little access to education facilities.

Most boys in other parts of the prison were allowed out of their cells just seven hours a day. They could exercise only 30 minutes every morning. Boys were not always able to have a shower or make a telephone call every day.

Of 25 recommendations relating to children’s safety made at the last inspection, early in 2017, 14 (56%) had been achieved, 9 (36%) had not been achieved and 2 (8%) were partially achieved.

Carolyne Willow, Article 39’s Director, said:

“Despite some improvements in child protection scrutiny, the reality remains that boys are incarcerated in conditions utterly unsuitable for children. While reading the report, especially the section on Feltham’s segregation unit, the thought once again came into my mind that these graphic descriptions of the harms inflicted on children will appear one day in an official inquiry report. People will look back in shock and shame that we ever treated children this way.” 

Read the full report here.

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