Influx of youth remands after riots posed significant safeguarding challenges
Staff in the secure estate experienced an unprecedented influx of young people following the summer riots, which proved a significant challenge to safeguarding, the prison’s inspectorate has reported
An inspection of Feltham Young Offender’s Institution (YOI), following the disturbances in August, found a lack of information about new arrivals made it difficult to carry out initial assessments to keep young people safe, and the huge increase of movement across the whole of the under-18 secure estate impacted on both new arrivals and the settled population.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons also found that young people held on remand had inadvertently been exposed to gangs, with young people on different units forming into gangs, including those who had not been involved in gangs before.
The distance young people were held from home and the lack of contact with their families and youth offending teams was also highlighted as a consequence of for those moved to the north of England.
During and immediately after the riots the report states that “Feltham received in a week the number of new arrivals it would normally expect in a month: 60 young people”.
According to the report: “Staff said that while there had been good communication between establishments, there was a need for a National Offender Management Service (Noms) and Youth Justice Board strategy to help address the broader issues.”
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said, children sent to jail after the disturbances were put at risk, “stretching the prison system to its limit”.
“It is shocking that there was no coherent strategy from central government for dealing with the massive influx of children sent into custody,” she said.
“Staff were forced to make it up as they went along. As a result the number of children on suicide risk went up a whopping 200 per cent.
“We had phone calls on our crisis line from children in prisons who had been advised to walk around in pairs so they were not on the landing on their own.”
Penelope Gibbs, director of the Prison Reform Trust’s Out of Trouble programme, said: “The system did cope just about but the report begs the question as to whether so many under 18 year olds needed to be locked up on remand in the wake of the riots.”
The report conducted prior to the riots found that the YOI continues to operate fairly well, but progress had halted and in some areas regressed.
Safeguarding arrangements had improved, incidents of self-harm had reduced and work was going on to address gang issues.
But the quality of activity provision had deteriorated and attendance in education and standards of discipline were poor, with many young people returned to their cells because of disruptive behaviour.
Chief inspector of prisons Nick Hardwick said: “This establishment continues to operate reasonably well, working with often volatile young people in a challenging environment. This does not, however, negate the fact that the progress and improvement we have previously described has stopped, and in significant areas regressed.
“There is a clear need to refocus the prison’s work on equality with a diverse population, basic standards of cleanliness require improvement and there is a need to re-energise elements of the resettlement strategy. Most importantly, there must be access to good quality activity and education which will engage young people and equip them for the future.”
Michael Spurr, chief executive of the Noms, said: “Feltham has a very challenging population and I am pleased that the work being undertaken to address gang issues has been recognised.
“At the time of the inspection Feltham was adapting to cope with a higher sentenced population of young people than previously. The governor will use the chief inspector’s report to develop the regime to match the young people’s needs and improve activity provision.
By Neil Puffett Tuesday, 20 December 2011