Howard League blog · 4 Jun 2019
Last year I wrote about the history of Feltham, showing how it has never been a safe place for children, never cared for challenging children well, and never helped them on the road to a good and useful life. The failure of Feltham prison with children is a national scandal. Now yet another report tells how the children are subjected to violent restraint by staff, while self-injury has increased, and often return to the community with little or no support.
Our own experience illustrates this. This is a summary of some of the cases our legal team has dealt with recently from children and their distraught mothers.
- A teenager called us as he had an adjudication for criminal damage which involved punching an object in order to self-harm. He was on an ACCT (suicide and self-harm watch) subject to observations twice an hour. The lad also told us that he was restrained after swearing and making a slight movement after he had been told not to move. As a result he suffered bad bruising. The same young person had also been in contact about only getting one hour a day out of his cell. We complained on his behalf.
- A child contacted us as he felt bullied, isolated and depressed at Feltham – we are making representations for him to be transferred to an establishment where he will get more support.
- A child’s mother contacted us as her son was only being allowed to have two showers a week and one change of clothing a week. It appeared that this was a policy that was limiting regime entitlements for children on the lowest level of the earned privileges and incentive scheme. We wrote to the prison challenging this.
- A concerned professional called on behalf of a child with severe eczema who did not have sufficient access to medicated cream to treat his condition. The child had mental health difficulties and had a history log attempting to commit suicide.
- A child’s mother called us gravely concerned about the way her child was being treated including spending over 23 hours a day in his cell, not getting access to education and not getting appropriate medicated shower gel to deal with a longstanding skin condition.
- A child’s mother contacted us because he was in solitary confinement of 23 hours a day and wanted to go to education but was not allowed to go every day.
- A child told us that he was restrained till he was unconscious. We complained on his behalf.
- A mother called on behalf of her child who she was very concerned about. In addition to limited access to showers, time out of cell and education, he had been the victim of an assault by other children but had not received adequate medical attention – we made a safeguarding referral on his behalf.
- We were contacted on behalf of a child who had very limited access to showers and phone calls each week (only twice a week) and who had a longstanding medical condition requiring hospital treatment – but the prison had cancelled four hospital appointments.
The Howard League legal team works assiduously with the children themselves, explaining things and keeping them informed of what is happening. Many of the calls we receive are from distressed parents, usually their mothers – imagine how distressing it must be to know your child is locked up without sufficient access to basic things like fresh air, education or healthcare or is exposed to serous violence and there is nothing you can do about it.
We don’t let the prison authorities get away with it. We listen to what children, their parents and concerned professionals tell us. We cajole, we badger and if we absolutely have to, we litigate. But we should not have to. This latest report shows that incarceration at Feltham has continued to so more than a deprivation of liberty, a traumatic experience for children who need skilled and loving support.
It is not only scandalous that such inhumane and harmful treatment of vulnerable young people takes place to such an extent, but the entire system of governance appears to lack credibility and professional competence. Where treatment of vulnerable young people lacks competence, it becomes unethical. The examples given in this report highlight not only a merely punitive mode of responsiveness to relational difficulties, but also a completely outmoded, one could say archaic behavioural regime which is completely lacking in warmth and a care orientation. Good governance would ensure training and promote a humane culture, in which prison staff seek to connect with the children in their care and support each other in dealing in self-regulated ways with the behavioural challenges they face. This is the responsibility of prison governors, and ultimately of the state.
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If a parent treated their child the same way, the parent would be sent to prison. Yet government policy allows children to be treated in institutions without dignity or respect, to be subjected to mental torture and harsh physical restraint. This abuse leaves them mentally traumatized and results in yet more crime.