Category: Prisons Inspectorate

Serious child protection concerns at child prison

Today’s inspection report on Wetherby juvenile young offender institution, which includes a specialist unit for children who find it impossible to cope in a mainstream prison, raises a catalogue of child protection concerns.

There were 272 boys in the prison at the time of the inspection. In the main prison, 29% of boys had formerly been looked after by local authorities; in the specialist Keppel Unit this was 42%.

Inspectors warned that:

  • Only one of 21 safety recommendations made at the last inspection, in January 2015, had been achieved
  • Two suicidal children were “kept for long periods in cells bare of furnishings and personal belongings”. One of the boys was made to wear strip-clothing at night. Inspectors said, “These sterile conditions gave too much priority to mitigating risk rather than providing a humane environment that promoted [children’s] wellbeing”
  • Two children had been strip-searched while held under restraint. The report explains, “This is one of the most invasive procedures that can be carried out by the state and an alternative should always be sought.” Neither of the incidents had been referred to the local authority for independent scrutiny
  • Inspectors could not assess whether strip-searching was appropriate (and therefore lawful) in the segregation unit, as its use was not recorded in the strip-searching log
  • The deliberate infliction of pain on children during restraint continued, despite repeated objections from the prisons inspectorate
  • Planned restraint was “rarely filmed’. This is especially alarming since body-worn cameras were one of the main child protection measures introduced in response to BBC Panorama’s undercover filming of physical abuse in G4S-run Medway secure training centre
  • 31% of children held in the main prison said staff had victimised them: 30 reported insulting remarks and 19 physical abuse
  • 38% of children held in the specialist unit said staff had victimised them: 6 reported insulting remarks, 6 physical abuse and 3 felt intimidated and threatened by prison officers
  • Life for children in the segregation unit was tantamount to neglect: “It consisted of a daily shower, 30 minutes’ exercise in a cage-like yard, meals delivered to the cell and a telephone call every other day. Only two out of seven residents on the unit at the time of the inspection were receiving education. None of the boys had sufficient activities to occupy them in their cells and radios were only issued to them during the inspection”
  • Only a quarter (26%) of children in the main prison said they could speak to an advocate when they need to
  • Less than a third (31%) of children in the specialist unit said they could speak to an advocate when they need to.

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, says:

“How much more evidence do policy makers need that prisons are incapable of looking after children? This report tells us two children were held down by prison officers as their clothes were wrenched off their bodies; officers continue to deliberately inflict pain on children; 25 children reported physical abuse; officers working in the segregation unit do not even record strip-searches; suicidal children are kept in degrading conditions; and boys are allowed only 30 minutes outside in the fresh air each day, if they are lucky.

“Five months ago, Charlie Taylor issued his interim findings from his review of youth justice. He said his ambition was for smaller custodial establishments close to children’s families and communities. This latest inspection report should turn that ambition into a reality, and bring an end to the intolerable harm suffered by vulnerable children.”

Read the full report.

Lack of fresh air “seriously detrimental” to children’s health in prison

The latest inspection report on Feltham young offender institution states many boys have less than 30 minutes daily access to fresh air. Inspectors from the Care Quality Commission considered such deprivation to be “seriously detrimental to the health, development and wellbeing of growing boys”. Apparently the prison has now moved to a system of 60 minutes of exercise a day for these 16 and 17 year-olds.

Inspectors repeat their strong recommendation that boys should not be held in the segregation unit, which also detains young adults. This recommendation was first made after an inspection in January 2013.

The segregation of children had increased by 37% since inspectors were last on the premises. Boys can be locked up for as much as 22 hours a day, in cells that have no electricity. The environment is “grim and featureless” and follows the adult prison regime, inspectors say.

In the foreword to the report, the chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick, praises some “impressive” staff and managers working in the prison, noting that “all too often the boys [the prison] holds have been written off by community agencies”. He also states the resources and staffing within the prison are “insufficient for the task”.

Read the inspection report here.

Two reports emphasise the risks (and realities) of rights violations

Two reports released yesterday underline the risks of rights violations in institutional settings.

The first, a leaked report obtained by the BBC, tells of a 17 year-old disabled girl who was living in a residential health setting in Plymouth. She was sedated and flown to an adult setting in Dundee, as she approached her 18th birthday in 2007. The BBC reports that no consent was sought or obtained from the girl, either for the medication or the transfer to Scotland. Her parents were also not consulted. The girl’s advocate opposed the actions but was ignored. Dr Gabriel Scally, the former head of public health in south-west England, fought to get an investigation into the unlawful treatment and was refused a copy of the subsequent report.

No information is contained in the BBC news piece about any recommendations the report may have made about wider implications for policy and practice. Clearly this case raises questions about the power of advocates to take action to defend the rights of children when there is an immediate threat of violation.

The second report was published by the prisons inspectorate and is a review of the Minimising and Managing Physical Restraint (MMPR) system introduced in secure training centres from 2013 and due to be used in all young offender institutions by July 2016. As the chief inspector of prisons explains in his introduction, MMPR was developed following the restraint-related deaths of two boys, Gareth Myatt and Adam Rickwood, in secure training centres in 2004. The review found:

  • Prison officers in young offender institutions regularly inflict severe pain as a form of restraint. These techniques would only be lawful in extreme situations, yet the inspectorate found “pain used for non-compliance and failure to obey staff instructions immediately. In one use of force record, the reason for use of pain was recorded as ‘refusal to move back to cell. Needed to move [child] to continue with the regime’.”

    Another shocking case concerns a child with a broken wrist (inspectors don’t say whether the injury occurred during restraint). The boy was threatened with pain because he refused to follow orders. Inspectors concluded, “Poor recording and unclear CCTV footage meant that we were unable to verify if a pain-inducing technique was actually used on the boy.”

    Spot checks on general restraint records revealed that pain had been used more times than the prisons had officially recorded.

  • Frequent reports of children struggling to breathe during restraint, with some staff sceptical that children are telling the truth when they complain of being unable to breathe. The report reminds readers that Gareth told the three officers holding him down that he couldn’t breathe. They refused to believe him, retorting: “If you can talk, you can breathe” and Gareth died within minutes.
  • “Several examples” of children having all of their clothes removed whilst being restrained. A case study graphically highlights the assault on children’s dignity: “One boy we spoke to was restrained after threatening staff with a broken plastic knife. Once staff had restrained him and taken the knife, he was moved to a special cell and asked to remove his clothes: ‘When they got me to the special cell they asked me to take my clothes off. I said I would … They took me straight to the floor, before I had a chance to do it myself. Someone put a knee in my back, which did hurt a lot. They took my shirt off completely, then my trousers, boxers and shoes. They chucked a jumper on me to cover my bum.’”
  • “Dangerous examples” of restraint being used on children with medical or other conditions. Inspectors report that, “In general, staff were unfamiliar with the content of [individual restraint] plans; this was a serious oversight that could have led to significant injuries.”
  • Girls being restrained in a way which evokes past abuse. For example, one girl reported, “‘One member of staff grabbed my neck and then others pushed me to the ground and held me there telling me to calm down. While I was on the floor a male member of staff was holding my head almost between his knees. I have been sexually abused in the past so you can imagine how that made me feel. I was terrified.’”
  • Inspectors watched CCTV footage of children being kept in a head hold whilst being walked up and down flights of stairs and across long distances. Painful techniques were used even after children had calmed down. Children’s accounts in the report include, “‘I had my wrist bent back; all the while I was walking up the stairs. It was really painful. I went up three landings with my neck and wrist in flexion.’” and “‘My wrists were behind my back and my head was pushed down and I was taken all the way to the seg like that. I wasn’t kicking or going mad but I was trying to struggle because I wanted to get some control back.’”

Many more examples of abusive treatment are contained in the inspectorate’s detailed report. Its 10 recommendations include the cessation of restraint techniques which deliberately inflict pain on children, no more strip-searching under restraint and Local Safeguarding Children Boards and local authorities ensuring they are equipped to maintain effective independent oversight of restraint.