Today’s inspection report on Feltham child prison, in the London Borough of Hounslow, shows children have been effectively abandoned by our child welfare system. They are not safe, they are not being educated, they are in a lawless, violent environment and safeguards introduced after the deaths and mistreatment of other children are not followed.
The inspection took place in July this year and concerns were so serious that the Chief Inspector of Prisons invoked the urgent notification process. This is where the Secretary of State for Justice is alerted of grave failures in prisons.
At the time of the inspection, 82% of children had involvement with children’s social care, 35% had health problems and 22% were disabled. Over half had been in care. Eight of the 106 children in the prison were presently the subject of a full care order. Eight in 10 of the children were from black and minority ethnic communities.
- In the previous inspection, in January 2019, 11 recommendations relating to children’s safety were made. Not one of these had been achieved by the time of this follow-up inspection six months later.
- Seven officers had drew extendable batons in one incident, even though the weapon is prohibited in children’s prisons. No investigation was undertaken within the prison and no child protection referral was made to the local authority.
- Children are spending around 20 hours a day confined in prison cells in the week, longer at weekend.
- Caseworkers and other professionals had to speak with children through locked cell doors.
- Self-harm was 14 times higher than in 2017.
- Five children were routinely strip-searched and they were handcuffed when moving around the prison grounds. Inspectors found this disproportionate and inappropriate for children.
- Barnardo’s advocacy service was automatically notified when a child was strip-searched though inspectors found no advocacy support was given to children before or after they were forced to strip.
- Inspectors found incidents of children being given epilepsy and antibiotic medication up to six hours late.
- Three-quarters of children had been physically restrained.
- Pain-inducing restraint was used on children when there was no serious threat to anybody.
- There had been over 700 incidents of use of force in the preceding six months. Nearly 300 incidents had not been reviewed by specialist staff and over 900 use of force reports were outstanding, meaning no accountability or checks that children were not being abused/assaulted.
- The overview of the use of segregation was similarly poor.
- Ofsted found education to be inadequate in all areas.
- Some window vents were broken which meant air was not coming into children’s cells (including during the very hot days in summer).
- Only 22% of children reported that officers told them when they had done something good.
- Only one family day had taken place within the preceding six months and this was attended by only one child in the prison.
- Just 11% of children reported having someone in the prison to help them prepare for when they leave, and only 28% said their experiences at the prison made them less likely to offend in the future.
Carolyne Willow, Article 39’s Director, said:
“As we celebrate 30 years of the Children Act 1989, this report brings shame on us all but especially on those politicians who have, over successive administrations, dodged their responsibilities to protect incarcerated children. Children should be nowhere near Feltham prison, the institution must close. Every day it remains open is a day that Ministers are prepared to have children terrified, uneducated, abandoned and cast aside. A civilised country protects and provides for all of its children, including the ones we find difficult and challenging.”