Category: Child protection

Government publishes 70 targets to bring Feltham child prison to an acceptable level

The Ministry of Justice has today (21 August) published an action plan in response to the grave concerns about children’s safety and care raised by the Chief Inspector of Prisons last month.

On 22 July, Peter Clarke, the Chief Inspector, invoked the Urgent Notification procedure whereby significant concerns about the treatment and conditions within prisons are communicated directly to the Secretary of State for Justice within seven days of an inspection.

The announced inspection of Feltham child prison took place between 4 and 19 July. The Secretary of State for Justice, Robert Buckland, has today released an action plan with 70 dated targets. Deadlines for the targets range from ‘immediate’ to ‘June 2020’.

Among the grave concerns reported by the Chief inspector to the Secretary of State were:

  • 40% of children had felt unsafe at Feltham. Nearly half reported victimisation by other children; and around two-thirds said staff had victimised them.
  • Violence is higher than in any other child prison – including verbal and physical abuse by staff.
  • Self-harm among children was 14 times higher than in 2017, and this was largely attributed to them being locked in cells for long periods of time.
  • Only a quarter of children said their (emergency) cell bell was answered within 5 minutes.
  • Over 900 use of force reports were missing: these are written accounts of restraint used on children, including the use of pain-inducing techniques.
  • Children’s perspectives were not routinely gathered after the use of restraint, so it was impossible for managers to know whether there were any child protection concerns and/or force was used lawfully.
  • The longest period a child had been separated from the ordinary prison regime was 89 days. Inspectors found the treatment and conditions of children in these situations was “very poor”. Many ‘separated’ children spent fewer than two hours out of their cells in each 24-hour period.
  • Windows did not allow adequate ventilation and less than a quarter of children were able to have a shower every day.

After the Urgent Notification was invoked, the Ministry of Justice stopped sending children to Feltham. Today’s letter from the Secretary of State to the Chief Inspector states this arrangement will continue until senior managers consider the prison to be suitable for children.

Carolyne Willow, Article 39’s Director, said:

“The Chief Inspector’s letter last month set out a desperate, intolerable panoply of failures to meet basic levels of care and protection. Many of the 70 actions published by the Ministry of Justice today are rudimentary building blocks for any children’s residential setting, including the appointment of a head of safeguarding, staff training and adequate shower facilities.

“But the biggest problem is: we have been here before. And before that. Feltham has a very long and sad history of severe child suffering. Ministers should have taken the Chief Inspector’s letter as the final confirmation that the institution cannot be saved. Today’s announcement should have been bold and principled, signalling the closure of Feltham and investment in approaches and services known to turn around young lives. This document with its 70 targets is about rescuing a prison which started its life in the 1800s; if it was truly about children, it would be a closure plan.”

Read the 22 July 2019 Urgent Notification here.
Read the Secretary of State’s letter in response here.
Read HM Prison and Probation Service’s action plan here.
More information about the Urgent Notification process is here.

Another child dies in prison

The BBC has reported that a 16 year-old boy, Caden Steward, died in Cookham Wood young offender institution in Kent on Thursday 27 June. His death is not believed to have been self-inflicted, and is said not to be suspicious.

This is the third child to die in Cookham Wood YOI since 2012. An investigation by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman will take place.

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, said:

“This is desperately sad news. No child should ever come to the end of their life in prison. The prison service has apparently said the boy’s death is not suspicious. But we should all question and distrust the morality of keeping very vulnerable children in these unsafe and archaic institutions.”

Two days before the boy’s death, a debate was held in Parliament on closing child prisons, led by Labour MP Emma Lewell-Buck. The Minister, Edward Argar, refused to give a timetable for the closure of child prisons, even though the Government agreed two and a half years ago that they would be phased out. In 2016, the Youth Justice Board admitted that young offender institutions and secure training centres are not fit for the purpose of keeping children safe or rehabilitation.

35 children have died in young offender institutions and secure training centres since 1990, the year the UK signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The treaty requires that children are only ever detained as a last resort and for the shortest period possible.

Article 39 is running a national ‘End Child Imprisonment’ campaign with the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, the Howard League for Penal Reform, INQUEST, Just for Kids Law, National Association for Youth Justice and the Standing Committee for Youth Justice. Read more about the campaign here.

United call for the immediate closure of harmful child prisons and proposals for positive care

Child prisons are failing institutions causing devastating harm to vulnerable children and should be closed immediately. A coalition of organisations and independent experts is today (18 April) launching a completely different approach with the publication of a set of principles and minimum expectations for reducing the number of children locked up and making sure secure care is effective and safe.

The document provides a positive framework for addressing harmful behaviour and meeting children’s needs outside of prison. This requires skilled, multi-disciplinary teams working in small establishments close to children’s communities. Wherever possible, children should attend education and other facilities in their local area even when they are being looked after in a secure setting. Families and professionals who know children well should be fully involved in their care.

Drawing upon the best available national and international evidence, the document shows how to properly look after children while stopping their harmful behaviour. It comes two months after the country’s largest public inquiry found appalling mistreatment in child prisons.

Only children who present a serious risk to themselves or others should ever be deprived of their liberty, the coalition says. Deprivation of liberty should be for the shortest period of time, and punishment and deterrence must play no part in decision-making. The principles and minimum expectations also apply to children who may arrive in a secure setting through mental health or child welfare routes.

Carolyne Willow, Article 39 Director, said:

“The Government announced more than two years ago that it would phase out child prisons. Since then children have continued to suffer terribly in institutions which are incapable of meeting their needs and cyclically produce regimes of abuse, neglect and pervasive violence. It’s time for Ministers and opposition parties to treat this as an urgent matter of child protection and to commit to moving on from a penal system built in the Victorian age as an alternative to capital punishment and banishment to the colonies. No other area of policy concerned with children is so wedded to the distant past.”

Richard Garside, Director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, said:

“Imprisonment of children is unethical, harmful and perpetuates a system that punishes some of the most vulnerable in our society.

“We need to work towards ending child imprisonment. Given that imprisonment is an ongoing lived reality for many hundreds of children, it is also vital that the government takes steps, in the here-and-now, to reduce the harms of imprisonment and ensure that imprisoned children are treated with compassion, dignity and respect.”

Frances Crook, Chief Executive, Howard League for Penal Reform, said:

“It is a stain on the very fabric of the nation that we send children into prisons. Prisons damage already damaged children. It is time to put children first and make sure that every single child is nurtured and supported to grow into a law-abiding citizen.”

Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST, said:

“The deaths of children in prison are not a distant memory, but an unacceptable and recent reality. Deaths are the starkest demonstration of the damage caused by child imprisonment, and the culture of violence, use of force, self-harm, fear and neglect. Children need and deserve to be supported and nurtured. Child prisons must close. The focus of any government with children’s interests in mind must be investment in and expansion of community support services, not detention and criminal justice systems.”

Enver Solomon, CEO of Just for Kids Law, said:

“Child prisons are costly, failing institutions that are violent, unsafe and ineffective – sweeping vulnerable children and young people into a world of further crime from which it is impossible to escape.  We need to think again and create alternatives that guide children to safer more stable shores and improve public safety for us all.”

Ross Little, Chair of the National Association for Youth Justice, said:

“Prisons for children have been shown to be expensive ways of making vulnerability, disadvantage and harmful behaviour worse. It really is time for government to change its approach to how we deal with complex issues for some of the most challenged and challenging children in our society. We can do better than this.”

Pippa Goodfellow, Director of the Standing Committee for Youth Justice, said:

“This week is the anniversary of the horrific death of 15-year-old Gareth Myatt at Rainsbrook secure training centre. As we mark the loss of his young life fifteen years later, this should serve as a pressing reminder of the need to protect the hundreds of children locked up in child prisons today. In 2017 the Chief Inspector of Prisons warned that the state of youth custody was in crisis and so dangerous that tragedy was “inevitable”. Now is the time to take the necessary and urgent action to close these harmful and failing institutions.” 

Maggie Atkinson, Children’s Commissioner for England between 2010 and 2015, said:

“The incarceration of children and young people is at best unproductive and at worst qualifies as cruel and inhumane treatment. It often scars the children and young people involved still more deeply than whatever has happened to them that made them offend. 

“A modern society should seek to change the lives of children in conflict with the law robustly and with care. We have to reach a place where there is no need to lock them away, especially given our tendency to release them both unrehabilitated and more likely to reoffend. Finding the political and social will to do what’s right for children and wider society is an urgent necessity.”

Professor Barry Goldson, University of Liverpool and member of the United Nations Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty Expert Advisory Board, said:

“The international evidence base is compelling. Child imprisonment is typically: dangerous and damaging for young prisoners; spectacularly ineffective in terms of obtaining crime reduction and community safety; often unnecessary; wasteful of public money and utterly inadequate. There is an urgent and pressing need to seek replacement strategies that meet children’s needs and serve the public interest to positive effect.”


1.    ‘Principles and minimum expectation for children deprived of their liberty’ is published by the End Child Imprisonment campaign steering group. It can be downloaded here.

2.    The End Child Imprisonment campaign was launched in November 2018. It is run by a campaign steering group of Article 39, Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, Howard League for Penal Reform, INQUEST, Just for Kids Law, the National Association for Youth Justice and the Standing Committee for Youth Justice, as well as leading experts in children’s rights, the care of children and juvenile justice, including former Children’s Commissioner for England Maggie Atkinson; Dr Tim Bateman, University of Bedfordshire; Professor Barry Goldson, University of Liverpool and member of the United Nations Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty Expert Advisory Board; Dr Di Hart, Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellow (children’s secure care); Pam Hibbert OBE, youth justice specialist and a former manager of a secure children’s home; and Dr David Scott, Open University.  

3.    In February 2019, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse published its investigation into children’s custodial institutions. It found there had been 1,070 sexual abuse allegations between 2009 and 2017. This included 36 allegations of rape or attempted rape in young offender institutions and secure training centres over that period. Physical violence and children feeling unsafe in custody were commonplace, and appeared to be rising.

4.    Individuals and organisations can support the End Child Imprisonment campaign here.

5.    Fifteen years ago, Gareth Myatt, aged 15 and weighing just 6½ stone and less than five feet tall, was fatally restrained in Rainsbrook secure training centre. 34 children have died in young offender institutions and secure training centres since 1990, the year the UK signed up to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and pledged to use custody as a last resort and for the shortest period possible. The most recent child deaths in prison were Daniel Adewole (aged 16) and Alex Kelly (aged 15). Daniel was found unresponsive in his cell in Cookham Wood young offender institution following an epileptic fit in 2015. The prison had cancelled his paediatric neurology hospital appointment a few weeks before, because he and his parents knew the date – which was said to breach prison security rules. Alex Kelly was found hanging in his cell in Cookham Wood in 2012; he had been in care since the age of five and was known to be extremely vulnerable. The night Alex was found hanging he had told a prison officer about the sexual abuse he suffered as a very young child.

6.    In December 2016, Charlie Taylor’s review of the youth justice system in England and Wales was published. The Government’s response, published at the same time, said in respect of child prisons: “The Taylor Review proposes that YOIs and STCs should be replaced in the longer term by smaller secure schools situated in the regions that they serve. These should be set up, run, governed and inspected as schools, drawing on the expertise and experience of outstanding alternative provision schools (which provide education for children and young people who are unable to go to mainstream schools) and have greater freedoms for their head teachers to recruit staff and commission services… We agree with this vision…”. Charlie Taylor became Chair of the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales in March 2017.

Pain-inducing restraint of vulnerable children: legal challenge on hold

Adam Rickwood photograph
Adam Rickwood hanged himself in 2004, aged 14, after Serco officers unlawfully restrained him – including by striking him in the nose. The ‘nose distraction’ was then an authorised restraint technique.

Article 39’s application for permission to apply for judicial review of the authorisation of pain-inducing restraint on children has been stayed pending the Charlie Taylor Review and the report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights.

This means we can return to court should children’s human rights continue to be breached after both investigations have concluded.

With financial backing from 196 donors, we have been challenging the Ministry of Justice’s authorisation of pain-inducing restraint during detained children’s journeys to and from secure children’s homes. GEOAmey holds the contract for prisoner and secure escorts. 

We have argued that the Government’s policy breaches children’s rights to protection from inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, and to protection from discrimination, under Articles 3 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Pain-inducing restraint within secure children’s homes is banned. 

We are also pressing for clear and public rules setting out when children may be restrained during their journeys to and from places of detention. 

Our challenge led the Ministry of Justice to review its policy on pain-inducing restraint during children’s journeys to and from custody. It then committed to a much wider review of pain-inducing restraint across young offender institutions, secure training centres and secure children’s homes – as well as the escorting process. This is being undertaken by Charlie Taylor and is expected to report no later than Summer 2019.

Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights is also conducting an inquiry into the solitary confinement and restraint of children in custody. The Committee recommended the abolition of pain-inducing restraint techniques in children’s custodial institutions in 2008 and 2009. Since then the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the UN Committee Against Torture have all urged the withdrawal of these harmful techniques.

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, said:

“With the Charlie Taylor Review, this is the first time Ministers have commissioned a stand-alone investigation of the deliberate infliction of pain on vulnerable children. This has only happened because of our legal challenge, and we are extremely grateful to all those who donated funds and to our excellent legal team.  

“This year is the fifteenth anniversary of the death of Adam Rickwood, a 14-year-old boy who hanged himself after officers deliberately assaulted him in the nose – which was then an authorised method of restraint. A second inquest into his death found he had been unlawfully restrained. 

“It’s been a very long wait to get this basic child protection, where members of staff are not allowed to strike a child in the name of restraint, but we are now the closest we have ever been.

“There is no question that we will return to court should the Charlie Taylor and Joint Committee on Human Rights’ reviews not result in children receiving the protection to which they are entitled.”

Article 39 is represented by Mark Scott, Partner at Bhatt Murphy Solicitors, and Dan Squires QC and Tamara Jaber from Matrix Chambers.

Royal Assent given to first restraint Act of Parliament

Article 39 is delighted that Royal Assent has been given to the UK’s first Act of Parliament dedicated to protecting children and adults from abusive restraint.

The Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act 2018 is known as Seni’s Law, after 23 year-old Seni Lewis who died after being restrained by 11 police officers called to the Bethlem Royal hospital in London on 31 October 2010. Seni, an IT graduate, had been admitted to the hospital as a voluntary patient.

  • Last year, 9,296 people were subject to physical restraint in a mental health, learning disabilities or autism service in England; the total number of physical restraints was 53,188 – giving an average of 6 restraints per person.
  • There were 19,078 incidents of physical restraint among 1,198 children and young people (under the age of 20 years) – giving an average of 16 restraints per child and young person. This is nearly three times the overall average.
  • Prone restraint is when a person is held face down onto a surface. There were 3,405 incidents of prone restraint on children and young people (under 20 years old) in England in 2016/17. For all ages, the figure was 10,071, meaning that 34% of face-down restraint were used on children and young people.

With YoungMinds, INQUEST and others, we have been working on the legislation as it made its journey through Parliament.

Carolyne Willow, Article 39’s Director, states:

“This Act of Parliament will massively strengthen child protection within mental health units. Children in these settings are, by definition, extremely poorly and vulnerable, and restraint continues to be used much too frequently and not as a last resort. We offer our utmost respect to the family of Seni Lewis whose courageous fight for justice has ensured child and adult patients have legal rights to dignified, respectful and safe care.” 

Three provisions in the legislation which Article 39 specifically pushed for:

  • Section 5(2)(i) requires that staff training relating to the use of force includes the impact of restraint on a patient’s development. We would have preferred the wording ‘child’s development’ but the meaning is the same – training must specifically include the effects of use of force on children’s development.
  • Section 6(5)(m) requires a description of the outcome of the use of force to be recorded – this means that any injuries and/or psychological harm suffered by children (and adults) will be noted.
  • Section 6(5)(p) requires that records about the use of force indicate whether parents (or others in a patient’s care plan) were notified after each use of force. This is a vital safeguard for vulnerable children who may not tell their parents (or the local authority if they are in care) if they have been restrained. This duty will also benefit adult patients.

Article 39 wanted more protections to be included in the primary legislation but we are very reassured that the Department of Health has agreed that the statutory guidance will specifically – and separately – address the rights and needs of children in mental health units.

We look forward to working on the guidance over the next 12 months, and hope the Government will commence the legislation at the earliest opportunity. (Once an Act of Parliament gains Royal Assent, unless it states otherwise, it is up to Ministers to decide when it will come into force).