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5 Jun 2018

Howard League responds to Werrington prison inspection

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on Werrington prison, published today (Tuesday 5 June). The prison, near Stoke-on-Trent, holds boys and young adults aged between 15 and 18.

Inspectors visited the prison in January and found that it had improved in general since its last inspection, but violence was a major concern. More than 200 violent incidents were recorded in the six months prior to the inspection. Use of force had increased, but body-worn video cameras were underused.

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 36 calls from young people in Werrington. More than three-quarters of these calls raised concerns about adjudications, treatment and conditions, or the use of segregation.

One young person who was assisted by the Howard League had been given more than 300 additional days of imprisonment through the prison discipline system.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The overall tone of the inspectorate’s report is positive. For example, it is rare in prison to see children eating with other children, let alone staff, so it is good that officers are encouraged to sit with the boys at mealtimes. The Howard League has visited Werrington, and we were impressed to hear officers describing the children in their care as children, rather than trainees or inmates as we have heard in other prisons.

“From the dozens of calls we have received from children in Werrington through the Howard League advice line, however, and from looking at the finer detail in the report, it is clear that there is still a long way to go.

“Violence is a major concern. Inspectors call for action on very serious issues, including: child protection; the infliction of pain on children by staff; diversity and equality training; the amount of time boys spend out of their cells; and better support for children who are at risk or have been exposed to child sexual exploitation.

“In any other environment for children, concerns about any one of these problems would be grounds for urgent action to be taken. It is shameful that prisons are held to a much lower standard.”

Calls to the Howard League about Werrington

In January – the month in which the inspection took place – the Howard League was told that several children had complained that they did not have coats. Prison officers were walking around with coats, hats and gloves. It is understood that the prison had green semi-waterproof coats but that they were not going to distribute these in case the children then put their hoods up.

A young adult called the Howard League to say that he was going to be released from Werrington in a couple of days but had nowhere to live. He said that probation had told him that his release would not be allowed until he had a fixed address.

A boy was charged with assaulting a prison officer, after he brushed past the officer in an attempt to run away from another child and an adult visitor, who were attacking him in the visiting hall. The boy was subsequently attacked by the other child and the visitor. The boy felt that he had been punished for being victimised.

A boy did not feel safe to leave his cell, which was leading to deterioration in his mental health. He said that he was able to use the phone only once every three or four days, and he considered himself “lucky” if he was able to go to the gym once every two weeks. He did not leave his cell to meet the other children, and he had education classes on his own.

Another boy told us that he was asked by a prison officer if he wanted to plead guilty or not guilty to an adjudication for disobeying a lawful order while in his cell. The adjudication hearing then took place in the boy’s absence. A prison officer told him his punishment and said that the hearing had gone ahead in his absence because he had refused to attend, which the boy said was not true.

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 Werrington inspection report will be available from Tuesday 5 May on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website.


Rob Preece
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