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26 Jul 2018

Howard League responds to Wetherby prison inspection

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on Wetherby prison and the specialist Keppel unit, published today (Thursday 26 July). The prison holds boys aged 15 to 18.

Inspectors visited the prison in March and found that it had made progress but violence had increased.

About three-quarters of restraint incidents involved full use of force by two or more staff. Use of pain-inducing techniques had increased, and 16 boys had been strip-searched under restraint. The documentation examined by inspectors did not always make clear the purpose or justification for such extreme forms of restraint.

The use of segregation had reduced since the previous inspection, which was conducted in 2017, but it remained greater than in comparable prisons.

The Howard League runs a free and confidential legal advice line for children and young people in custody. In the last 12 months, the charity has received more than 40 calls from or on behalf of children and young people held at Wetherby.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The inspectorate has seen progress at Wetherby, but calls to the Howard League advice line reveal that there is still much work to do.

“Children and young people have told us that they have been living for months in conditions that amount to solitary confinement, with as little as 30 minutes a day out of their cells.

“The report raises issues about violence, strip-searching and painful restraint. In any other environment for children, concerns such as these would warrant further investigation. It is shameful that prisons are held to a much lower standard.”

Calls to the Howard League about Wetherby

More than half of the calls to the Howard League about Wetherby in the last 12 months were seeking help with isolation, lack of regime, and lack of access to education.

Some boys reported living for months under regimes so curtailed as to amount to solitary confinement, regularly only being allowed out of their cells for 30 minutes a day, and being denied education and exercise.

The Howard League has also supported boys where the prison had disregarded due process for segregating children, not giving them opportunities to make representations in advance of reviews, not giving them clear targets for progression, and not explaining sufficiently the reasons for their ongoing segregation.

One child who the Howard League supports was sent from Wetherby to a prison for people aged over 18. According to the government’s answer to a Parliamentary Question, this had not happened for several years. The transfer was opposed by the child and his Youth Offending Team (YOT) worker.

Case study 1 – A 16-year-old boy in isolation

The Howard League represented a 16-year-old boy who was held in the segregation unit at Wetherby for almost three months.

The charity submitted complaints to challenge the decision to segregate him, the lack of opportunity to make representations before being segregated, his treatment and regime while segregated, and the lack of clear targets to enable him to return to normal location.

The boy’s YOT worker was not invited to review meetings and the prison agreed that this was an error.

Following the Howard League’s intervention the child was transferred to another children’s prison, where he is doing well.

Case study 2 – A fresh start

The Howard League represented a boy who received more than 300 additional days of imprisonment while in another children’s prison.

The charity worked with the prison and the Youth Custody Service to negotiate a move to Wetherby, where the child could make a fresh start.

As part of the move, the Howard League negotiated that the new prison agree to consider remitting a significant proportion of the extra days without the child having to wait the usual four-month period without any adjudications.

The move was successful as the boy’s behaviour transformed and was found to be exceptional.

Wetherby stuck to its promise and agreed to remit more than 100 extra days, resulting in the boy’s release. The Howard League worked to ensure that he had a package of accommodation and 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.
  1. One child who the Howard League supports was recently sent from Wetherby to a prison for people aged over 18. A Parliamentary Question, answered in July 2017, revealed that no children had been “starred-up” from Wetherby in this way between 2014 and July 2017. The Parliamentary Question can be read on the website.
  1. A copy of the Wetherby inspection report will be available from Thursday 26 July on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website.


Rob Preece
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