HMP/YOI Feltham - violent and unsafe

Two reports on unannounced inspections of HMP/YOI Feltham in West London are published today by Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons.

The reports record unacceptably high levels of violence at Feltham, and say a rethink was needed about its role. The Chief Inspector has cautiously welcomed the decision taken after the inspection that young adults on remand would no longer be held at Feltham, which may help to create a more stable and manageable population.

HMP/YOI Feltham is divided into two parts. Feltham A holds children and young people, mostly aged 16 or 17. Feltham B holds young adult men aged 18 to 21. Up to now, both parts have held remand and sentenced young people. Inspectors had serious concerns about the safety of young people held at Feltham A. At Feltham B, against all the inspectorate’s healthy prison tests, inspectors found outcomes for young adult prisoners were insufficient or poor. It was clear that Feltham B had deteriorated significantly and that there was a need for radical thinking about its future.

At Feltham A, inspectors were concerned that:

  • there were on average almost two fights or assaults every day, some of which were very serious and involved groups of young people in very violent, pre-meditated attacks on an individual;
  • many young people said they were frightened at the time of the inspection, and had little confidence in staff to keep them safe; and
  • gang-related graffiti was endemic.

Inspectors found that the level of violent incidents remained much too high. This was despite some good work which had actually reduced the number of fights and assaults by 10% in the 12 months before the inspection. The security department was effective and made good use of intelligence to manage gang-related activity and the very good behaviour management group worked directly with young people to address their behaviour. CCTV recordings viewed by inspectors showed staff put themselves in harm’s way to protect young people and the force used to break up fights was proportionate and necessary.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • care for young people at risk of self-harm was good and child protection arrangements were sound;
  • behaviour had improved in the education department where an incentive scheme quickly acknowledged good work and behaviour; and
  • the quality and outcomes of education, learning and skills provision had much improved since the last inspection.

The segregation unit remained an unsuitable environment for children and young people. Living conditions were poor and the regime was very limited. Some young people might be held in the segregation unit for up to 10 days and a few might then be confined to their cells for 22 hours a day for long periods after they returned to the wings.
Inspectors were also concerned that the establishment-wide reducing reoffending strategy did not effectively assess or address the specific needs of children and young people. The loss of funding for the Heron Unit, where ‘resettlement brokers’ had helped ensure young people had access to sustainable accommodation and work, training or education on release was a real setback.

At Feltham B, which held young adults aged 18 to 21, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • despite work being done to reduce violence, and a very effective security department, levels of violence remained high;
  • self-harming behaviour was reducing but remained high;
  • there was an unprecedentedly high use of batons by staff;
  • emergency cell bells were not answered quickly, applications were not dealt with sufficiently and too many staff were disengaged;
  • time unlocked was limited and often unpredictable;
  • there was insufficient activity to meet need, with 43% of prisoners recorded as unemployed;
  • the education and work  places available were too often underused;
  • staffing issues and transitional arrangements had seen the effective suspension of offender management and planning in the previous six months; and
  • despite some meaningful and effective work to deliver resettlement help, it was not well coordinated or sufficiently linked to sentence planning.

Nick Hardwick said:

‘Feltham as a whole is an unacceptably violent place.  Despite excellent work in some cases, staff were unable to prevent a high number of very concerning incidents that carried a significant risk of serious injury.  In my view staff were sometimes overwhelmed by the challenges they faced and as a consequence, some of their response, such as the prolonged use of isolation on the children and young people’s side and the use of batons on the young adult side, were unacceptable. On the young adult side in particular, relationships between staff and prisoners were too often characterised by mutually low expectations.  These low expectations may have contributed to the poor levels of purposeful activity and weak resettlement work which were both, in any case, beset by severe management and organisational difficulties.

‘There was good work happening in Feltham that could be built on. Some weaknesses could be addressed by the establishment itself, but it cannot make the significant improvements required on its own. Feltham has not been able to hold such a large, constantly changing population safely on one site or meet their specific developmental and practical needs. Furthermore, the Feltham B side has a damaging effect on the culture and operation of the A side. It distracts attention and means that some facilities and services, such as segregation and work to reduce re-offending, are inappropriate for children or not geared to meet their needs.

‘I welcome the decision that the remand function will be removed from Feltham B and that some young people may remain there beyond their 21st birthday. This may help to create a safer, more stable population.  However, performance will continue to need to be very closely monitored.  Young adults on remand will now be held in the main prison estate and very careful attention will be needed to ensure their specific needs are identified and met.

‘The high levels of violence at Feltham A are a serious example of the concerning deterioration in safety we have seen across a number of young offender institutions holding children and young people. The welcome reduction in the number of young people held in custody means that there is now a greater concentration of those with the most challenging behaviour and severe problems and some institutions have struggled to manage this. It is essential that Ministers’ current review of youth custody arrangements gives the most careful consideration and priority to how these young people can be held safely and helped to reduce the likelihood they will reoffend after release.’

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive Officer of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), said:

‘This report reflects the serious concerns I have about the propensity for and the level of gang-related violence amongst young people sent to Feltham but it also highlights the remarkable work that staff do on a daily basis to manage such a challenging group.

‘I have already announced that from the autumn Feltham will no longer hold young adult remand prisoners. This will increase stability and provide greater flexibility in the management of this group of prisoners.

‘We will continue to monitor and appropriately address violent incidents but work is ongoing to challenge the underlying issues to ensure we are able to appropriately rehabilitate the young men held in Feltham.’

Notes to Editors

  1. Read the full report
  2. HM Inspectorate of Prisons is an independent inspectorate, inspecting places of detention to report on conditions and treatment, and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public.
  3. HMYOI Feltham (Feltham A side) holds young people aged 15 to 18 who are deemed unsuitable for or do not warrant secure local authority accommodation. HMP/YOI Feltham (Feltham B side) holds young adults aged 18-21.
  4. The unannounced inspection of HMYOI Feltham (Feltham A – children and young people) was carried out from 21-25 January 2013. The unannounced full follow-up inspection of HMP/YOI Feltham (Feltham B – young adults) was carried out from 18-22 March 2013.
  5. Please contact Jane Parsons in HMI Prisons Press Office on 0207 035 2123 or 07880 787452 if you would like more information or to request an interview with Nick Hardwick.