Teenagers attack staff ‘for honour’ in Feltham A youth prison

Reported in The Times today 6th August 2019.

Inmates are attacking officers as a “mark of honour” at a young offender institution plagued by gang allegiances and rivalries.

Staff at Feltham A in west London are also being assaulted by teenagers when they try to stop them attacking each other. Separating gangs has dominated prison life to such an extent that any work and education routines have collapsed, causing more resentment and violence, according to Peter Clarke, the chief inspector of prisons.

He has demanded that the justice secretary produce an action plan for improvement after inspectors found a “collapse” in safety and care.

One prison officer said that the “perfect cocktail” of inexperienced staff, gang rivalries and a hard core of violent teenagers aged 15 to 18 was behind the rising unrest. “There is a huge issue with gangs, members of postcode gangs in London, who are in the jail. They have an ethos of loyalty to the gang and they want to attack members of other gangs in the units. We have had situations where they are actually fighting staff to get to each other. It is a degree of honour for them to get at the other person,” the officer said.

The officer said that inmates were also attacking staff to prove themselves to their peers at the institution which holds just over 100 offenders aged 15 to 18, many of whom have been convicted of violent crimes including murder.

“They attack staff. There is an honour in attacking staff. They get an elevated position in their own peer group if they attack staff. They go to the top of the pile,” he said.

Staff have suffered serious injuries including broken jaws and damaged eye sockets. In April, 13 prison officers needed hospital treatment after they were attacked by inmates. Figures show that assaults rose from 230 to 325 in the six months to June, including a rise of attacks on staff from 62 to 152.

The prison has adopted a “keep apart” policy where inmates from rival groups are kept separate. This involves officers escorting them to education and healthcare appointments as well as ensuring that they are not in the same classes or at the gym together. As a result many are unable to get education or training and remain in their cells for long periods.

“They spend longer in their cells because we have to keep them apart and they get isolated and frustrated. Their coping skills are not good so they use violence as a way of getting attention”, the officer said.

The difficulties facing the prison have been compounded by the loss of experienced officers as a result of budget cuts. They are now being replaced by new staff with limited skills in how to cope with troubled and disruptive teenagers.

“Some recruits are not much older than the prisoners. They are young and have very limited experience to draw upon when dealing with young men who have complex needs and are violent,” the officer said.

Ministers stopped sending teenagers to Feltham A after Mr Clarke’s demand for urgent action to deal with what he described as an “extraordinary” decline in safety and care.

A prison service spokeswoman said: “The governor, who is still relatively new in post, is working hard to drive improvement in an establishment which has one of the highest and most concentrated proportions of violent offenders in the country. She and her team are incredibly dedicated to turning Feltham A around and we will respond with a formal action plan.”



HM Chief Inspector of Prisons has called on the Secretary of State for Justice to intervene urgently in Feltham A Young Offender Institution (YOI) after an inspection last week disclosed an “extraordinary” decline in safety, care and activity for the children held there.

Inspectors found very high levels of violence, between boys and against staff, high use of staff force, poor care, long periods of lock-up in cells and escalating self-harm.

Peter Clarke invoked the rarely-used Urgent Notification (UN) process because of disturbing inspection findings at the unit holding boys aged under 18 in West London. The Secretary of State must respond within 28 days, in public, with action to improve conditions.

Feltham A had previously been subject to a full inspection in January 2019. The report on that inspection, published in early June 2019, warned of deterioration in safety and care after a period of drift. Mr Clarke also took the unusual step, based on intelligence from a number of sources about Feltham A, of announcing that the Inspectorate would return to the children’s unit in early July to inspect both Feltham A and Feltham B, the linked prison for 18–21-year-olds.

The Urgent Notification relates only to Feltham A which, Mr Clarke said, “has for many years been recognised as a challenging and complicated establishment.”

Mr Clarke added: “We found that in the six months since the last inspection there had been what can only be described as a collapse in performance and outcomes for the children being held in Feltham A… The speed of this decline has been extraordinary.”

In his UN letter to David Gauke, sent on 22 July, Mr Clarke set out his key findings:

 40% of children said they had felt unsafe at some point during their stay at Feltham A

  • the number of violent incidents had risen by 45% since January 2019, though the number of children held had fallen
  • the number of assaults against staff, some of which were very serious, had risen by around 150% since January
  • levels of self-harm had tripled since the previous inspection and were 14 times higher than in January 2017
  • use of force by staff had risen to very high levels: 74% of children reported they had been physically restrained at Feltham A and there had been over 700 incidents in the last six months
  • fewer than one in five children felt cared for by staff, less than half felt most staff treated them with respect, and only 45% reported there was a member of staff they could turn to for help
  • frontline staff were working in an extremely challenging environment and were frequently victims of antisocial behaviour and violence
  • a third of children said they were out of their cells for fewer than two hours during the week; at the weekend this figure rose to nearly three- quarters
  • resources were being wasted as health care staff, education facilities and resettlement intervention services stood idle waiting for children to arrive
  • many children were being released from Feltham A without stable accommodation, without education, training or employment being in place, and without support from family or friends.

Mr Clarke wrote to Mr Gauke: “I do not for one moment underestimate the challenges facing the leaders and staff at HMYOI Feltham A. During recent months they have often faced violence, some of it very serious. The atmosphere feels tense, and I could sense that many staff were anxious. Some were clearly frustrated about the situation in which they found themselves. They wanted to do their best for the children in their care.

“The overriding issue behind the extraordinary decline in performance over the past 18 months is the approach to dealing with violence and managing the behaviour of children. Of course, there is a need to keep children safe from each other, and for staff themselves to be safe in their workplace. However, the response at Feltham A, for many years, has been to focus too heavily on containing the problems rather than addressing them. As a result, ‘keep apart’ policies – developed so that children from rival gangs, or who for other reasons are likely to be violent to each other, are kept separate – have come to dominate.

“This has led to a collapse of any reasonable regime, has prevented many children from getting to education or training, delayed their access to health care, isolated them from meaningful human interaction and frustrated them to the point where violence and self-harm have become the means to express themselves or gain attention.

“There clearly needs to be a new approach which looks fundamentally to change behaviour and goes beyond merely trying to contain violence through ever more restrictive security and separation.”

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook, the definitive 1,600-page annual guide to prisons in England and Wales – the new 21st annual edition of which is published on 1st August 2019 – said the report was “shocking”.

Mr Leech said: “This is a shocking report where an increasing number of children in this establishment, unable to cope, have flipped into self-destruct.

“Levels of self-harm have tripled since the previous inspection – and they are now 14 times higher than they were in January 2017.

“Today we will have a new Justice Secretary after the resignation of David Gauke following Boris Johnson’s election as Prime Minister – to them I say: ‘welcome to the real world of prisons’ – and please deal with this urgently as the Notification requires.”

Read the Urgent Notification Letter

Read the Urgent Notification Letter & Full Notice

HMYOI Feltham Children’s Unit: Deterioration in Safety and Care after Period of Drift


Safety and care in the children’s unit at HMYOI Feltham A in west London were found in 2019 to have deteriorated over the year since the previous inspection.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the young offender institution appeared to have suffered some “drift” during a period without a governor.

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Mr Clarke said that in 2018 inspectors “reported on a much-improved institution where good leadership had resulted in outcomes across three of our healthy prison tests – safety, care and resettlement – being reasonably good.

“More needed to be done to improve purposeful activity and we cautioned that any loss of leadership focus could expose the fragilities, which at the time we felt characterised some of the improvements we had observed. In light of the clear warning in our last report, it was disappointing to be told that… there had been an interregnum when Feltham had been left without a governor for a period of five months.

“A new governor was now in post and beginning to stabilise the establishment, but it was evident to us that there had been a degree of drift resulting in deteriorating outcomes, notably in safety and care.”

Feltham A was now not safe enough. There was a significant increase in the number of children self-harming. “The care experienced by those in need was also reasonably good, although it would have been better if such children were not locked up, often alone, for extended periods.”

In the inspection survey, some 13% of children said they currently felt unsafe and levels of violence had increased significantly since 2018. In the six months to the 2019 inspection there were 230 incidents of violence, a return to the high levels reported in 2017. Initiatives to reduce violence existed, but needed to be applied with more rigour and coordination, Mr Clarke said. Inspectors noted that not enough had been done to identify the reasons behind the increase in violence.

“Similarly, a comprehensive behaviour management strategy had been formulated, but it was applied inconsistently.” Operational staff “were neither setting ambitious standards nor sufficiently challenging antisocial behaviour.”

The application of ‘keep-apart protocols’, designed to separate individuals or gangs who were perceived as a threat to one another, had become all-consuming, inspectors found. “We understood the over-riding need to keep children safe from one another, but such arrangements were having an impact on all aspects of the regime, limiting opportunities for children to make any progress. The prison needed to rethink this approach and develop new strategies for conflict resolution.”

Nearly two-thirds of children said they had been physically restrained and the use of force by staff had increased. Mr Clarke added: “Oversight and scrutiny were, however, lacking and we found evidence of poor practice, including the use of pain-inducing techniques, that had not been accounted for.”

Too few children felt respected by staff and many suggested they felt victimised. Inspectors saw patient and caring encounters, but found that many staff were too preoccupied with keeping children apart to be able to develop trusting relationships. Nearly half of children said they had no one to turn to for help. “The residential environment had deteriorated and we could best describe many cells as spartan,” Mr Clarke added. Inspectors found 26% of children locked in their cells during the working day, a situation that was worse than last year and overall very poor. Only around a third of children could shower every day.

However, there was evidence of real improvements to the education and training curriculum and to the management of teachers. Public protection arrangements were managed well, but offending behaviour interventions had been limited by staff shortages and by the imposition of the ‘keep-apart’ requirements.

Overall, Mr Clarke said: “Feltham is a high profile and challenging institution, and the decline in standards since the last inspection was disappointing. However, we were impressed by the new governor’s commitment to the institution and her grasp of the issues that need attention.”

The Chief Inspector added: “Because of our findings in the January 2019 inspection of Feltham A – and further concerns based on information from a number of sources – we have informed HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) that we will return to Feltham in the week commencing 8 July 2019 to carry out a survey, which will be followed by a full inspection starting on 15 July. This full, announced inspection will cover the whole establishment – both the Feltham A children’s unit and Feltham B, holding 18-21-year-olds. This is an unusual step, but I have come to the conclusion that in all the circumstances it is a necessary and appropriate course of action.”

Dr Jo Farrar, Chief Executive of HM Prison and Probation Service, said: “HMYOI Feltham A is a complex and challenging place, and we are pleased that inspectors have recognised the work of the new governor and her commitment to driving forward improvements at the prison. We are taking urgent action to address the concerns raised – this includes opening a specialist unit to provide interventions and support for the most challenging young people, and providing each offender with a dedicated officer to better help their rehabilitation. We have also recruited an extra 90 prison officers across Feltham since the last inspection and are training more than 50 Youth Justice Specialist Officers. We know that there is a lot more to do and that significant change is needed which is why the governor and her staff will continue to work hard ahead of the return of the inspectors in July.”

Read the Report 

HMP/YOI Feltham – Violence Must Be Tackled

felthamHMP/YOI Feltham was not safe enough, violence had risen and boys and young men spent too long locked in their cells, said Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons. There were, however, many examples of good work by staff, he added. Today he published two reports of unannounced inspections of the West London young offender institution.

HMP/YOI Feltham is divided into two parts. Feltham A holds boys aged 15 to 18 and held 126 boys at the time of the inspection. Feltham B holds young adults aged 18 to 21 and was holding 380 at the time of the inspection. Both sites are managed as a whole but operate separately. Both sites were recently inspected. Feltham A was previously inspected in August 2015 and Feltham B in July 2014. At this more recent inspection, Feltham A had seen a decline in standards and received inspectors’ lowest judgement for safety and the provision of work, training and education.

At Feltham A, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • levels of violence and the use of force had increased and some of the violence was very serious, including multiple assailants and the use of weapons;
  • the response in terms of behaviour management was ineffective, with a focus on sanctions and regime restrictions;
  • time out of cell was inadequate and prevented boys from using basic amenities, including showers and telephones;
  • the restricted regime meant 40% of the boys were locked up during the school day while 30% were out of their cells for just two hours each day; and
  • there were sufficient school places and teachers but fewer than half the boys were getting to classes.

However, inspectors at Feltham A were pleased to find that:

  • staff were working in very challenging circumstances yet most interactions between staff and boys were polite;
  • care for boys in crisis or at risk of self-harm was reasonably good;
  • substance misuse services remained good;
  • health care was good and the work of the mental health team was excellent;
  • despite problems caused by the regime, the education provider had created a positive school ethos with high expectations of boys; and
  • provision to resettle boys back into the community was reasonably good and preparation for release or for transition to the adult estate was well managed.


The inspection of Feltham B, after a more optimistic inspection in July 2014, was also disappointing. Despite some good work being carried out by staff across many areas of the prison, inspectors found that the young men held there were living in an unsafe environment, were often afraid for their own safety and were enduring a regime that was unsuitable for prisoners of any age, let alone young men.


Inspectors were concerned to find that:


  • reception and first night environments did not help make new arrivals feel safe;
  • there had been a significant increase in violence against prisoners and staff since the last inspection and nearly half of the prisoners said they had felt unsafe at Feltham;
  • the response to violence had been ineffective and there did not appear to be a coherent plan to address behaviour management in a different way;
  • the strategy for dealing with gang-related issues was largely ineffective;
  • numerous restrictions and staffing shortfalls affected the provision of a full regime for most prisoners;
  • some young men were locked in their cells for more than 22 hours a day;
  • too many work and education programmes were cancelled or restricted by the regime and overall, the quality of learning and skills provision needed to improve; and
  • too many prisoners arrived without an up-to-date risk assessment and sentence planning was not working effectively.

However, inspectors were pleased to that at Feltham B:

  • staff-prisoner relationships were generally good;
  • health care was good and mental health provision was impressive; and
  • work to help prisoners resettle back into the community was generally good.


Peter Clarke said:“It would be wrong not to recognise the challenges faced by staff at Feltham A in creating a safe and decent facility. Violence was a serious problem and during the inspection there was a serious assault on an officer. Staff should be able to work in a safe environment and not be in constant fear of being assaulted. The current approach is failing to deliver that reasonable expectation and from the evidence available to us, is actually making it worse. The focus on keeping people apart rather than trying to change their behaviour has not worked. Feltham A is not safe for either staff or boys.

“At Feltham B, while the violence and poor regime overshadowed this inspection, despite everything, there was some very good work being carried out by dedicated staff.”

A copy of the full reports, published on 30 June, can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at: www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons

HMYOI Feltham A – making real progress

felthamHMYOI Feltham’s work with boys under 18 (the ‘A’ side) had made real improvements, despite some continuing serious safety concerns, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the young offender institution in West London.

Staff and managers at Feltham have one of the most difficult jobs in the prison system. Feltham A held 180 boys, most aged 16 or 17, with very complex and challenging behaviour, some of whom were a danger to themselves and to other boys and staff. Often the boys held at Feltham have been written off by community agencies and the resources and staff Feltham has to meet the needs of those held there are insufficient for the task. Nevertheless, despite continuing serious concerns, this inspection found Feltham A making real progress with credible and positive plans for the future.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • progress was being made on the introduction of new restraint processes that emphasised de-escalation;
  • managers responded to the challenges of violence in a positive and thoughtful way, and there was a clear strategy to provide greater incentives for good behaviour as well as sanctions for bad;
  • some staff acted very courageously to protect boys from assaults and placed themselves at risk in doing so;
  • there were well developed plans to open an enhanced support unit for boys with greater needs;
  • the use of body-worn cameras by staff appeared to be having a positive effect;
  • substance misuse services had improved and were excellent;
  • support for boys at risk of self-harm was generally good;
  • education staff had made good plans to meet the new requirement to offer 30 hours’ education a week,
  • relationships between staff and boys were the best they have been for many years;
  • the environment was generally good and work on equality and diversity issues was effective; and
  • a team of committed caseworkers worked hard to provide good resettlement support and social workers ensured local authorities met their obligations to looked after boys.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • the number of violent incidents remained very high, although it had reduced since the last inspection;
  • a small number of boys were too frightened to leave their cells and spent about 23 hours a day locked away;
  • in the seven months from January to July 2015, 49 officers had been injured and 40 assaults on staff had been referred to the police;
  • the use of segregation in the bleak care and separation unit shared with young adults was high, though there were plans to open a separate new unit, designed to meet the needs of 15 to 18-year-olds;
  • the levels of violence and poor behaviour were impacting on Feltham’s ability to get boys out of their cells and into purposeful activity; and
  • more needed to be done to motivate boys who struggled in the classroom by improving the quality of teaching and a better mix with vocational training.

Nick Hardwick said:

“There is much to be learnt from the history of Feltham and some of the impressive staff and managers who work there. The review the government has recently started into youth justice should look, listen and learn. Feltham A has a long way to go at present and there are very serious concerns about the safety of the boys held there. However, it is making real progress and it has the right strategy to make more. It has impressive, committed leadership and staff are responding to that. Sustained, consistent effort will be needed to make the further improvements required, there may well be setbacks, and it will be important that managers and staff receive equivalent sustained and consistent support from both the Youth Justice Board and National Offender Management Service.”
Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of the National Offender Management Service, said:

“Feltham faces some difficult challenges, but, as the Chief Inspector says, real progress is being made. This reflects some really impressive work by the Governor and his staff who deserve huge credit for their dedication, professionalism, commitment and resilience.

“I’m pleased that the report highlights good relationships between staff and children. Although there remains more to do, progress has continued since the inspection with assaults on staff down by 11% and use of force down by almost a quarter. An improved regime has also been introduced, and boys are now spending more time out of their cells.”

A copy of the full report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at: www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons