Feltham significantly safer, says prison Inspector

By Agencies
May 10, 2018

HMYOI Feltham A in west London – home to 140 boys aged mostly 16 and 17 – had become significantly safer in the last year, inspectors found.

A troubling inspection in early 2017 found safety and the provision of meaningful activity for boys – two key ‘healthy prison’ tests – to be ‘poor’, the lowest HMI Prisons assessment. When inspectors returned in January 2018, according to Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, it was “pleasing to be able to report that both these areas had improved…Safety had improved quite dramatically, so that on this occasion it was found to be ‘reasonably good’.

“These improvements had not come about by accident, but were the result of clear, focused leadership. It was no coincidence that in both these areas the majority of recommendations made at the last inspection were either fully or at least partially achieved.”

Though London gang culture still had a significant impact in Feltham A and violence remained high, the level of violence had nevertheless reduced overall, including an “impressive” 80 per cent reduction in assaults on staff. Assaults on boys were down by a third. Inspectors commended some effective conflict resolution by staff and some boys were now allowed to eat meals together. Mr Clarke commended a new rewards-based behaviour management philosophy that was, at the time of this inspection, still being embedded. “Last year we reported how the focus had been on sanctions and regime restrictions; there was a cycle of violence and punitive responses, with no obvious strategy in place to break it. This had changed, and we found a new focus on rewards and incentives for good behaviour.” There was also a positive impact from a new enhanced support unit (ESU) opened for the most challenging boys, removing them from mainstream wings but also giving them a better regime and psychological input to understand and hopefully improve their behaviour.

“It was early days, but the new mindset offered more hope than the previous unremittingly negative approach to behaviour management,” Mr Clarke added.

Staff at Feltham A were found to be patient, enthusiastic and dedicated, though some accommodation was worn and neglected and more work was needed to instil in the boys the necessary discipline to keep their cells and communal areas clean. Inspectors noted, however, that a large number of looked-after children at Feltham A did not always receive the support to which they were entitled from local authorities, in particular in ensuring suitable accommodation on release had been secured. Inspectors also urged the prison to tackle a problem with some boys getting into debt through gambling.

Overall, Mr Clarke said, “There had been excellent progress made at Feltham since the last inspection, and good leadership played a huge role in this achievement. There had been some very good initiatives and, following our last very critical report, it is pleasing to be able to report that there had been some significant investment in Feltham. However, the progress could easily prove to be fragile if investment falls away or leadership loses its focus. Feltham is an institution that over the years has seen peaks and troughs in performance. This latest inspection marks something of a peak after the trough of the previous one in 2017. It would be a great achievement if the improvement turns out not only to be sustainable but to give firm foundations for future improvement.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, said, “I am very pleased that the Chief Inspector has recognised the hard-work of the Governor and his staff at Feltham, and have acknowledged the real progress they’ve made. Improvements in safety are a step in the right direction and it is always rewarding to hear staff praised for being patient, enthusiastic and dedicated. We are focused on continuing to develop purposeful regimes that focus on the educational needs of the young people in our care at Feltham and across the youth estate.”

Responding to the report, the Howard League for Penal Reform said its legal team is still receiving a large number of calls from children who say that they are spending 23 hours or more a day locked in their cells.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League, said: “There have been some improvements in Feltham and there had to be, because the prison was so dire at its last inspection that the inspectors declared it unsafe for boys and unsafe for staff.

“No one should pretend, however, that Feltham is a suitable place for a child. Less than half of the boys are able to have a shower every day, and we keep getting calls from children telling us that they are stuck in their cells for hours and hours on end.”

The majority of calls about Feltham that the Howard League has received have raised concerns about treatment and conditions. 

A man called the charity because he was concerned about his 16-year-old son, who had limited association and was locked up for 23 hours a day. The father was particularly concerned about his son’s lack of physical exercise and said that he was looking gaunt.

A 17-year-old boy called the charity to say that he was locked in his cell for 23 hours a day because the prison did not have enough staff. He told the legal team that he had not had a shower for four days and had not had association for two weeks. He said that visits from professionals were frequently delayed or did not happen at all.

Another child called to say he was locked in his cell for 23 hours a day. For more than a week, he had not been getting any education at all. He was being segregated under YOI Rule 49 but had not attended any reviews to see what he needed to do to get out of segregation. He had put in a number of complaints but had not received any responses.

The Howard League heard of a 17-year-old boy in Feltham who had no legal advice in an adjudication before the governor. The matter was initially referred out to the police, but the police took no further action so it was sent back to the prison. The child found out the day before, so he was unable to get legal advice. When the boy asked for an adjournment to allow him to seek legal advice, his request was refused.

Another 17-year-old boy in Feltham called the Howard League two days before he was due to be released. He did not have an address to be released to and was on a care order. His family lived in London, but the local authority was proposing to place him outside of the city against his wishes.

HMYOI Feltham (Feltham A) manages young people on remand and those who have been sentenced by the courts.

* A full copy of the report can be found here

* HM Inspectorate of Prisons https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/

* Howard League for Penal Reform https://howardleague.org/

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