The appalling treatment of children in Youth Offenders Institutions

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In a report dated 21st January 2020 “Separation of children in young offender institutions: A thematic review” by HM Inspectorate of Prisons, Peter Clarke the Chief
Inspector of Prisons is calling for a “major overhaul” of the policy of separating children from their peers in young offender institutions (HMYOIs). Children are being
held in “harmful solitary confinement with little human contact and in conditions which risk damaging their mental health”.

His report found “fundamental flaws” in the use of separation at 5 establishments in England and Wales, which hold around 600 offenders aged between 15 and 18 at
Cookham Wood in Kent, Feltham A in West London, Parc in South Wales, Werrington in Staffordshire, and Wetherby and Keppel in West Yorkshire. During the inspections in May and June last year 1 in 10 young offenders spoken to by inspectors had been separated during their time in custody and “in the worst cases children were let out of their cells for just 15 minutes a day”, according to the findings. As a consequence Peter Clarke is calling for an “entirely new approach”. He said that they’d found children who were unable to access the very basics of everyday life, including a daily shower and telephone call. One child in crisis was “left to lie on a mattress on the floor of a filthy cell for more than 22 hours a day with no meaningful contact”. The report found “multiple and widespread failings” although it said there were some areas of better practice, such as in HMYOI Parc.

In 57 cases it reviewed and 85 interviews with the children and staff inspectors found “significant” cause for concern. There were occasions when it was in a child’s best
interests to be separated because of the risk they posed to others, or for their own protection, but staff should still have ensured they had access to daily activities and
work to reintroduce them to a normal regime.

Nearly all separated children spent long periods of time in their cell without any meaningful human interaction. Managers asked for authorisation to hold children in
separation for more than 21 days on 346 occasions between May 2018 and April 2019. Not one of these requests was rejected.

Some more key findings:

  • Children who had self-harmed and who had been restrained were left “isolated in
    unfurnished accommodation”, contrary to rules.
  • 8 children had spent a combined total of 373 days in separation and were waiting to
    be taken to a secure hospital for treatment for mental health conditions.
  • 58% of the children inspectors spoke to said they were locked up as a punishment,
    even though prison rules forbid this.
  • There were children who “simply felt unsafe and were reluctant to leave their cells”
    and consequently experienced “what amounted to solitary confinement”.

Mr Clarke said: “The weaknesses of current practice and oversight are of such a magnitude that we recommend an entirely new approach, and that current practice
be replaced”. “A new model of separation should be implemented that enables managers to use separation to protect children from harm and prevents separated
children being subjected to impoverished regimes.” The Chairman of the Faculty of Forensic Psychiatry, Professor Pamela Taylor, at the
Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “It is deeply troubling that many children are still being held in solitary confinement, sometimes for long periods of time. We have
previously called on the Government to completely abolish the solitary confinement of children in the youth justice system.”

The Government has said the failings are “completely unacceptable” and that it was making “immediate changes” as well as carrying out a review. Hopefully they will
move quickly and implement a humane regime.

Jill Canvin


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