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 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