Campaigners call for end to ‘fundamentally unsafe’ incarceration of children

Campaigners have called for an end to detaining children in prisons, calling the practice “fundamentally unsafe”.

The calls from The Howard League for Penal Reform come after the latest Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report into HMYOI Werrington (pictured) was published on Tuesday, ahead of a debate on youth custody among ministers in Westminster Hall.

The young offender institution near Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire, which holds about 120 boys aged 15 to 18, was found by inspectors in February to have become less safe since it was last visited in January last year.

In the report, chief inspector of prisons Peter Clarke said: “The number of assaults on children remained high and violence against staff had doubled since our previous inspection.

“Opportunities to reward good behaviour were missed and we saw many examples of low-level poor behaviour not being challenged.”

The report said: “Violence against children and staff remained high and some of it was very serious. Use of force had risen and there were weaknesses in governance.

“Incidents of violence between children had reduced but some were very serious.

The use of force on children had increased since the previous inspection, although incidents of force remained lower than other similar establishments, the report said, adding: “Pain infliction techniques continued to be used on children, which was inappropriate.”

The Howard League for Penal Reform said it received 23 calls in the last year about boys at the establishment through its free legal advice line.

The charity’s director of campaigns Andrew Neilson said: “Today’s report on Werrington is the latest in a long line of inspections and inquiries that have shown prisons holding children to be fundamentally unsafe and unable to meet their most basic needs.

“Calls from prisons across the country to the Howard League’s legal helpline demonstrate the unacceptable trauma that children are exposed to in custody, from lack of education to isolation and painful restraint.

“If a parent behaved in this way they would find themselves at risk of a child protection investigation or even prosecution but, shamefully, prisons are held to a much lower standard.

“Later today, MPs will debate whether it is time to end the use of prison for children. This debate is long overdue, and the answer ought to be a resounding yes.”

Helga Swidenbank, prison and probation service executive director of the Youth Custody Service, said: “I am pleased that inspectors have recognised the large amount of positive work taking place at Werrington, including good healthcare and education, and the strong relationships staff have developed with the boys in their care.

“While violence is a challenge across the youth estate, the new governor has already started to implement plans to reduce it, review behaviour management and improve the one-to-one support for every boy.”

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