Category: Child prisons

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.

Child health bodies urge ban on solitary confinement in custody

The British Medical Association, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and the Royal College of Psychiatrists have issued a joint position statement calling for the prohibition of solitary confinement in child prisons and secure children’s homes. The health bodies say:

There is an unequivocal body of evidence on the profound impact solitary confinement can have on health and wellbeing.

Various studies indicate an increased risk of suicide or self-harm amongst those placed in solitary confinement.

As children are still in the crucial stages of developing socially, psychologically, and neurologically, there are serious risks of solitary confinement causing long-term psychiatric and developmental harm.

There is also clear evidence that it is counter-productive. Rather than improving behaviour, solitary confinement fails to address the underlying causes, and creates problems with reintegration.

For these reasons, there is a growing international consensus – from groups including the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, and the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on Torture – that solitary confinement should never be used on children and young people.

In light of its potential to cause harm, and in the absence of compelling evidence for its use, we call for an end to the use of solitary confinement on children and young people detained in the youth justice system.”

Carolyne Willow, Article 39’s Director, said:

“There is absolutely no justification for this cruel and normalised practice of physically and psychologically isolating children. Solitary confinement causes terrible suffering and police, health and social care agencies would be knocking down doors to help children escape such treatment in any other setting.”

Read the full joint statement here.

Independent board says child prison “inhumane”

The Independent Monitoring Board for Cookham Wood juvenile young offender institution says conditions there are “inhumane”.

Reflecting on 312 visits made to the prison between August 2016 and July 2017, the Board’s annual report states:

“Keeping boys with very severe mental health difficulties at Cookham Wood is inhumane: they cannot be properly supported here with insufficient appropriate specialist healthcare staffing.”

Four boys desperately required mental health care outside the prison but remained incarcerated because there was no specialist provision for them elsewhere. The Board described this as “unacceptable and highly distressing for the boys and staff involved”. One of the boys was admitted to Cookham Wood in December 2016 and wasn’t transferred to hospital until June the following year, “despite constant pleas by the [prison’s] mental health team”. The Board explains:

“From early February to late May he lived segregated in the Phoenix Unit, much of the time in its constant watch cell. He was shown kindness and sensitivity there, but his situation was heart-breaking.”

The Phoenix Unit offers a “very poor physical environment and limited facilities”, the Board complains. From March this year, children have been regularly locked in their cells for half the day, with visitors forced to talk to them “through their doors, which was neither humane nor confidential”.

The Board analysed the time spent by boys out of their cells over a one month period. They found the average was just 4-5 hours during the week and 2 hours at weekends. This was largely due to insufficient staffing. The effects were damaging for both children and staff:

“Boys tell the IMB that it is the unpredictability of their regime which they find particularly upsetting. They do not blame the officers. Indeed, the IMB finds that day-to-day relationships between officers and boys are good, which is strong testimony both to the professionalism and sensitivity of the officers and the patience and understanding of the boys. But many boys say that repeated regime restrictions make them angry and upset. In some boys, anger can lead to violence, and to officers being injured, which in turn exacerbates the staff shortage.”

There is no overnight healthcare support in the prison, which holds around 140 boys.

On 4 July 2015, 16 year-old Daniel Adewole was found on the floor of his cell in Cookham Wood. Sudden unexpected death in epilepsy was the cause of death. The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman repeated recommendations he had made following the death of Alex Kelly, nearly three years before.

Fifteen year-old Alex Kelly was found hanging in his cell in Cookham Wood on 24 January 2012. He died the following day. Alex had been in care from the age of six years.

Read the full Independent Monitoring Board report here.


Solitary confinement of child ruled unlawful

The Howard League for Penal Reform has won a very important legal case, which should protect child prisoners from prolonged solitary confinement without regular reviews and education. The charity intends to appeal the judge’s decision that the child’s isolation for more than 100 days did not amount to inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.

Carolyne Willow, Director of Article 39, said:

“Today’s judgment shines a bright light on the devastating conditions children are routinely forced to endure in child prisons. The case concerns a boy with learning difficulties and special educational needs who was isolated in Feltham’s juvenile prison for a period of four months, eating his meals alone in his cell, receiving very little or no education and at best spending minutes each day in the open air. This was found to have breached his right to mental and physical integrity under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and to have contravened prison rules pertaining to education and to the use of solitary confinement.

“This important case concerns a child with profound vulnerabilities, all known by the authorities. He was placed on the child protection register as a baby, and then again at six years old. He entered residential care at the age of seven and, in the judge’s words, ‘has been in a succession of residential placements which all broke down’. The judgment contains five lines depicting how the boy felt about his confinement, ending with: ‘[He] felt tired from doing nothing and having no motivation. He sometimes had bad dreams’.

“It is inexplicable that the judge did not also find that the boy’s treatment in prison amounted to a breach of article 3 of the ECHR, protection from inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. The jurisprudence around solitary confinement is very adult-centred and the international definition – confinement for 22 hours or more – was developed for adults and children alike. The appalling suffering and damage done to children by isolation for shorter periods must be recognised, and I am pleased the Howard League for Penal Reform plans to appeal this part of the decision.

“How many of us could bear to have our own children isolated in a room the size of a bathroom for hours on end, with human contact restricted to shouts through a locked door? Remarkably, the judge referred to a television providing the boy with ‘a human voice’, though on many occasions even this was taken away from him because of his inevitable disruptive behavior.”


Inquest into death of 16 year-old Daniel Adewole starts today

The inquest into the death of Daniel Adewole starts today in Maidstone, Kent.

Daniel, aged 16, died in Cookham Wood child prison on 4 July 2015. He was the 34th child to die in prison custody since 1990, the year the UK signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires that children be only ever detained as a measure of last resort.

At the time of Daniel’s death, the Youth Justice Board stated it was not aware of any suspicious circumstances.

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, says:

“We should all be suspicious of children dying alone in prison cells, miles away from their families and communities.

“It is shameful that we continue to lock up children in prisons designed to make adults suffer, and incomprehensible that this area of policy has been trapped in a time-warp for so long. Just last week the European anti-torture committee said the use of solitary confinement in Cookham Wood and other child prisons amounts to inhuman and degrading treatment.

“While this inquest is foremost about justice for Daniel Adewole and his family, we have to hope it will help bring about intelligent and humane change for all children.”