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.