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20 Jul 2016

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 children’s prison in West Yorkshire, published today (Wednesday 20 July).

Inspectors visited the prison, which holds boys aged 15 to 18, in February and March this year and found that there had been “some deterioration”. Many boys had insufficient time out of their cells, not being able to attend education and other activities, not always being able to have 30 minutes’ exercise each day. Some were made to eat their breakfasts while locked in their cells.

A lack of proper recording practices made it impossible for inspectors to be assured that there were not serious failings. The information available showed that force had been used on boys on 437 occasions during the six months prior to the inspection, but records were far from complete – almost 300 documents were missing.

Inspectors were also concerned to find that pain-inducing techniques and strip-search had been used on children while under restraint. Of the 21 safety recommendations made by inspectors at the last inspection, in January 2015, only one had been fully achieved.

Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This report shows how Wetherby exemplifies the failed approach we have to imprisoning troubled children with little hope of positive change or support.

“It is particularly shocking to hear of poor recording practices in the prison on a vital issue such as the use of force. What message does that send these children from those charged with a duty of care?

“This inspection report adds to a large body of required reading for Elizabeth Truss and her new ministers. There are systemic problems. The need for radical change has not gone away.”

Inspectors criticised the prison’s relationship with the Youth Justice Board, which was “played out in disagreements” about what the boys should be doing with their time. The regime implemented by the governor did not meet the needs of the children.

Boys struggled to access education. Overall, attendance at classes sat at only 66 per cent. One in three boys in the prison’s Keppel Unit was locked up during the working day, compared with none at the time of the last inspection. One in four boys on the main site was also locked up during the working day.

The Howard League’s free advice line has received a number of calls about issues arising in Wetherby prison, such as concerns about regime, segregation and unlawful restraint.

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. A copy of the Wetherby inspection report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website.
  1. In June the Howard League published a landmark report on the use of restraint, solitary confinement and strip-searching in child prisons in England and Wales. The report looked at what progress had been made in the decade since the charity published the findings of an independent inquiry, chaired by Lord Carlile of Berriew QC. Copies of The Carlile Inquiry 10 years on can be downloaded from the charity’s website.


Rob Preece
Campaigns and Communications Manager
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