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21 Nov 2023

Howard League responds to inspectorate reports on children in custody 

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ Children in custody 2022-23 report and its inspection report on Werrington, a prison holding children, both published today (Tuesday 21 November).  

For Children in custody 2022-23, the inspectorate analysed survey data from inspections of five prisons and a secure training centre and found that, although the number of children in custody continued to fall, levels of violence and self-harm rose significantly.  

Children were spending far too long alone in their cells, and a little more than half of those surveyed felt that their experience of custody made them less likely to reoffend. Less than half reported feeling cared for by staff, and almost one-third did not have a single member of staff they trusted to help them if they had a problem. 

The survey findings echo what the Howard League has seen and heard through its legal work with children in custody. Calls to the charity’s advice line have drawn attention to children being unable take part in education or exercise, or even at times to access showers or get fresh air. Children have told the charity that they do not feel safe and have raised concerns about inappropriate use of force by staff. 

Inspectors visited Werrington, a prison in Staffordshire that holds boys aged 15 to 18, in July and August this year. More than a quarter of the boys told the inspection team that they felt unsafe. Most of the children were out of their cells for no more than four hours each day.   

Howard League staff have visited Werrington since the inspection. There were some signs of improvements since the inspection took place – in particular, in terms of a resolution of some ‘keep apart’ restrictions, enabling more boys to mix together. However, some of the systemic problems flagged in the inspection report remained. Of particular concern were continued issues with inappropriate and disproportionate use of force.  

 Andrea Coomber KC (Hon.), Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Every child needs fresh air, exercise, education and contact with other people if they are to grow up, thrive and lead healthy lives.

“But the calls we receive reveal that children in prison are spending hours on end locked inside their cells, fearing for their safety. The inspectorate’s survey results only underline the fact that prison is no place for a child.

“This is why the Chief Inspector is right to oppose the use of Pava in prisons holding children. When Pava was piloted in prisons holding adults, evaluation findings indicated that it did nothing to reduce violence and in fact had a detrimental effect on relationships between staff and people who needed support.’ 

Notes to editors 

  1. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
  2. The Children in custody 2022-23 report and the inspection report for Werrington prison are available on the His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons website at:  



Noor Khan
Press and Public Affairs Officer
Tel: +44 (0)20 7241 7873



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