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27 Jul 2020

Howard League responds to short scrutiny visit report on prisons holding children

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ short scrutiny visit report on prisons holding children, published today (Monday 27 July).

Inspectors visited Feltham ‘A’ and Werrington prisons on the same day (Tuesday 7 July). They found that children were still being locked up alone for more than 22 hours each day ­– four months after restrictions were introduced in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Deprived of purposeful activity, children spent most of their day sleeping, watching TV or playing computer games. Frustration was growing, and staff were aware of the negative impact that the restrictions could have on the children – but attempts to reintroduce education classes had been blocked by the prison service and national staff associations.

Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Every child needs fresh air, education and activities to grow and thrive, but, while restrictions have begun to ease in the community, intolerable and unconscionable delays in prison have left children languishing in conditions of solitary confinement for more than 100 days. This must end.

“This vital report by the prison watchdog accords with what we have been hearing from children through the Howard League advice line, and it shows why external scrutiny, even if restricted by the pandemic, is so important.

“It is time to work positively for a solution that stops children being hurt and helps them to realise their potential. It starts with keeping them out of prison and giving them the care and support they deserve.”

The report comes three months after the Howard League, drawing on its legal work, published a briefing on how the response to the pandemic has affected children.

Children in prison during the Covid-19 pandemic revealed that most children were experiencing a severely restricted regime. In most prisons, children were not receiving face-to-face education; they were receiving education sheets or worksheets under the door to be completed in their cells. One child told the Howard League that this amounted to some sheets on maths and English that took him about 25 minutes a day to complete. Another child said that his anger-management courses and art therapy had been cancelled.

The briefing showed that children were worried about their parents and elderly relatives and their inability to help them while stuck in prison. While children had been given additional phone credit, this was typically their only contact with the outside world. Difficulties in contacting families and professionals made planning for release especially problematic.

Earlier this month, the Howard League published a leaflet for children in custody to reassure them that their rights have not disappeared during the pandemic. Illustrated by a child in prison, the leaflet reminds children that they still have a right to education, contact with their family, and physical and mental healthcare. It stresses that they can still get support and make complaints to the prison if they feel their rights are being ignored or they are being treated differently to others. It reminds them that they are still able to apply for early release, bail or parole, and their rights to support and accommodation on release are unchanged.

The Youth Custody Service has supported the distribution of the leaflet. The Howard League has sent 1,000 copies of the leaflet to be distributed in prisons and copies have been printed and provided to children in secure training centres and secure children’s homes.

The Howard League has also worked with Garden Court Chambers to produce a guide to help lawyers representing unsentenced children. Ending the detention of unsentenced children during the Covid-19 pandemic provides legal and practical guidance for defence lawyers to resist applications to remand children to custody and assist them in making effective bail applications.

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. Children in prison during the Covid-19 pandemic can be downloaded from the Howard League website.
  3. More information about the leaflet produced for children in custody can be found in a blogpost by Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, on the charity’s website.
  4. Ending the detention of unsentenced children during the Covid-19 pandemic can be downloaded from the Howard League website.
  5. All materials published by the Howard League in relation to the response to the Covid-19 pandemic in prisons can be found on the charity’s website.
  6. The long history of problems in Feltham prison is documented in a blogpost by Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, on the charity’s website.
  7. The short scrutiny visit report is available from the Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons website.


Rob Preece
Campaigns and Communications Manager
Mobile: +44 (0)7714 604955

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