Watchdog warns of surge in self-harm and violence at young offenders institution

Violence and self-harm have surged at a high profile young offender institution, an inspection report has found.

Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke said HM YOI Feltham A in west London was now “not safe enough”.

His report said the unit had been left without a governor for a period of five months.

A new governor was now in post, but Mr Clarke said: “It was evident to us that there had been a degree of drift resulting in deteriorating outcomes, notably in safety and care.”

Feltham YOI (pictured) comprises a facility for young adult prisoners, and a children’s unit, Feltham A, which holds males aged 15 to 18.

HM Inspectorate of Prisons carried out an unannounced inspection of Feltham A in January.

It found levels of violence had increased significantly since the previous inspection in 2018. In the six months to the latest inspection, there were 230 incidents of violence.

There had been a substantial increase in violence against staff, with 62 reported incidents compared to just eight at the last inspection.

The report noted that the level of violence was now comparable to similar institutions, and very few incidents were of a serious nature.

There were 76 incidents of self-harm over the previous six months, compared to 34 recorded at the previous inspection.

In a survey, nearly two thirds of children said they had been physically restrained, and the use of force by staff had increased, according to the inspectorate.

Its report also warned that the application of “keep-apart protocols”, which are used to separate individuals or gangs perceived as posing a threat to one another, had become “all-consuming”.

Overall, the chief inspector said the decline in standards at the “high profile and challenging” institution was disappointing.

“However, we were impressed by the new governor’s commitment to the institution and her grasp of the issues that need attention,” he added.

As a result of the findings of the inspection, and “further concerns based on information from a number of sources”, the inspectorate will return to Feltham to carry out a full inspection covering the whole establishment later this year.

Mr Clarke said: “This is an unusual step, but I have come to the conclusion that in all the circumstances it is a necessary and appropriate course of action.”

Dr Jo Farrar, chief executive of HM Prison and Probation Service, said: “HMYOI Feltham A is a complex and challenging place, and we are pleased that inspectors have recognised the work of the new governor and her commitment to driving forward improvements at the prison.

“We are taking urgent action to address the concerns raised – this includes opening a specialist unit to provide interventions and support for the most challenging young people, and providing each offender with a dedicated officer to better help their rehabilitation.

“We have also recruited an extra 90 prison officers across Feltham since the last inspection and are training more than 50 youth justice specialist officers.

“We know that there is a lot more to do and that significant change is needed which is why the governor and her staff will continue to work hard ahead of the return of the inspectors in July.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Steve Parsons / PA Wire.