Category: Child prisons

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. It was deeply disappointing, however, that the High Court did not also find that the child’s isolation for more than 100 days did not amount to inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. The charity intends to appeal this.

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 behaviour.”

Read the judgment here.


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.”

Anti-torture experts condemn mistreatment of children

The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture yesterday released its analysis of how well the UK complies with the anti-torture treaty we ratified in 1988, in relation to both adult and child detainees. Committee members visited the UK last year. A child prison in Kent, Cookham Wood young offender institution (YOI), was one of the sites inspected. The Committee also examined the care and treatment of children with mental health problems detained in police custody. Findings and recommendations to the UK Government include:

  • The Committee notes the child abuse scandal of the then G4S-run Medway secure training centre (STC), exposed by BBC Panorama last year, and recommends an urgent review of “the current operating model of the YOIs and STCs with a view to ensuring that, if exceptionally necessary to hold juveniles in detention, the secure juvenile estate is truly juvenile-centred and based on the concept of small well-staffed living units”. It states children’s welfare “should lie at the heart of the juvenile detention system”.
  • None of the prisons visited “could be considered safe for prisoners or staff”. In Cookham Wood child prison, the Committee found that “the high levels of violence were managed primarily through locking juveniles up for long periods of time, on occasion for up to 23.5 hours per day”. A “vivid pink sign” stating “do not unlock” was stuck on children’s cell doors to denote they were at risk of either perpetrating or suffering violence. Committee members met a child “who spent 23.5 hours a day lying on his bed, under his covers, blankly looking at a TV screen, talking and meeting no one”. Another boy, aged 15, had been held in these appalling conditions “for several weeks”. The Committee concluded: “holding juveniles in such conditions amounts to inhuman and degrading treatment” and recommends the UK authorities” take urgent steps to provide all juvenile prisoners – especially those on ‘separation’ or ‘protection’ lists – with a purposeful regime, including physical activities and considerably more time out-of-cell than currently provided”.
  • Long delays were reported in the local authority investigating child protection allegations at Cookham Wood. The Committee described this and other safeguarding deficiencies as “protection gaps”. It recommends that members of staff who are the subject of mistreatment allegations should not be undertaking duties that bring them into contact with the alleged victim until the matter has been fully investigated.
  • Children in Cookham Wood who were punished by “cellular confinement” were held in cells, which “were dark, dirty, poorly lit and inadequately ventilated”. Many children complained about being locked in their cells for excessive periods, so the Committee checked official records. They found five children had been held in solitary confinement for more than 20 days in January 2016; three of them 31 days. In September 2015, one child had spent 52 days in solitary confinement. Periods of segregation lasting 80 days had been recorded by the child prison. The Committee examined data for other child prisons and found them to be “staggering”. It cites two cases of children in Wetherby and Werrington YOIs being segregated for a period of 84 days. The Committee recommends Cookham Wood segregation cells “be refurbished and undergo a deep clean on a regular basis”. It makes two strong general recommendations relating to the solitary confinement of children: first, that the UK urgently abolish prison powers to hold children in solitary confinement as punishment; and second, that segregation units are replaced with “small staff-intensive units”.
  • The Committee found that staff from an adult immigration detention facility (now closed) had been used to cover staffing shortages. Children reported they were “less helpful and more distant” than staff who had elected to work with children. The Committee recommends staff “should be carefully selected for their personal maturity, professional integrity and ability to cope with the challenges of working with – and safeguarding the welfare of – this age group”.
  • 43 children at the time of the Committee’s visit to Cookham Wood were not receiving any education. The majority “were offered around three and a half hours [out of their cells] to exercise, associate and eat communally”.
  • Nurses were not available during the night at Cookham Wood, which the Committee recommends should be rectified. Children were handed their medication through “a small hatch” which “meant that other prisoners could see and overhear medical details”. Although 50 children at the prison were receiving mental health care, the institution had no dedicated consultation room. Children with serious psychiatric problems about to turn 18 endured “considerable delays” being transferred to hospital.
  • Children held in Cookham Wood were allowed outdoor exercise only once every two days, for 30 minutes at a time. The Committee recommends they be allowed outside for at least one hour a day.
  • More generally, the Committee expresses concern about children with mental health problems being placed long distances from home. It also welcomes Government policy commitments to end the practice of children with mental health problems being detained in police custody, though states this should be enshrined in legislation.

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, said:

“This devastating report shows, once again, that vulnerable children are being held in intolerable prison conditions and they are suffering great harm. These are children in the care of the state or big businesses running prisons for profit.

“Penal practices and institutions should have long since been abandoned for children. As political parties busily prepare their election manifestos, it cannot be too much to ask that they each commit to close down child prisons and invest in interventions that have the child’s well-being at heart. This is not only humane, it is basic common sense – you don’t improve children’s well-being, behaviour and home circumstances by locking them in a tiny, squalid room for 23 and a half hours a day”.