HMYOI Feltham A Children's Unit - deterioration in safety and care after a period of drift

Safety and care in the children’s unit at HMYOI Feltham A in west London were found in 2019 to have deteriorated over the year since the previous inspection.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the young offender institution appeared to have suffered some “drift” during a period without a governor.

Mr Clarke said that in 2018 inspectors “reported on a much-improved institution where good leadership had resulted in outcomes across three of our healthy prison tests – safety, care and resettlement – being reasonably good.

“More needed to be done to improve purposeful activity and we cautioned that any loss of leadership focus could expose the fragilities, which at the time we felt characterised some of the improvements we had observed. In light of the clear warning in our last report, it was disappointing to be told that… there had been an interregnum when Feltham had been left without a governor for a period of five months.

“A new governor was now in post and beginning to stabilise the establishment, but it was evident to us that there had been a degree of drift resulting in deteriorating outcomes, notably in safety and care.”

Feltham A was now not safe enough. There was a significant increase in the number of children self-harming. “The care experienced by those in need was also reasonably good, although it would have been better if such children were not locked up, often alone, for extended periods.”

In the inspection survey, some 13% of children said they currently felt unsafe and levels of violence had increased significantly since 2018. In the six months to the 2019 inspection there were 230 incidents of violence, a return to the high levels reported in 2017. Initiatives to reduce violence existed, but needed to be applied with more rigour and coordination, Mr Clarke said. Inspectors noted that not enough had been done to identify the reasons behind the increase in violence.

“Similarly, a comprehensive behaviour management strategy had been formulated, but it was applied inconsistently.” Operational staff “were neither setting ambitious standards nor sufficiently challenging antisocial behaviour.”

The application of ‘keep-apart protocols’, designed to separate individuals or gangs who were perceived as a threat to one another, had become all-consuming, inspectors found. “We understood the over-riding need to keep children safe from one another, but such arrangements were having an impact on all aspects of the regime, limiting opportunities for children to make any progress. The prison needed to rethink this approach and develop new strategies for conflict resolution.”

Nearly two-thirds of children said they had been physically restrained and the use of force by staff had increased. Mr Clarke added: “Oversight and scrutiny were, however, lacking and we found evidence of poor practice, including the use of pain-inducing techniques, that had not been accounted for.”

Too few children felt respected by staff and many suggested they felt victimised. Inspectors saw patient and caring encounters, but found that many staff were too preoccupied with keeping children apart to be able to develop trusting relationships. Nearly half of children said they had no one to turn to for help. “The residential environment had deteriorated and we could best describe many cells as spartan,” Mr Clarke added. Inspectors found 26% of children locked in their cells during the working day, a situation that was worse than last year and overall very poor. Only around a third of children could shower every day.

However, there was evidence of real improvements to the education and training curriculum and to the management of teachers. Public protection arrangements were managed well, but offending behaviour interventions had been limited by staff shortages and by the imposition of the ‘keep-apart’ requirements.

Overall, Mr Clarke said: “Feltham is a high profile and challenging institution, and the decline in standards since the last inspection was disappointing. However, we were impressed by the new governor’s commitment to the institution and her grasp of the issues that need attention.”

The Chief Inspector added: “Because of our findings in the January 2019 inspection of Feltham A – and further concerns based on information from a number of sources – we have informed HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) that we will return to Feltham in the week commencing 8 July 2019 to carry out a survey, which will be followed by a full inspection starting on 15 July. This full, announced inspection will cover the whole establishment – both the Feltham A children’s unit and Feltham B, holding 18-21-year-olds. 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.”

– End –

Notes to editors

  1. A copy of the full Feltham A report, published on 4 June 2019, can be found here.
  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 is an institution in West London comprising a facility for young adult prisoners and a smaller facility, Feltham A, holding children aged 15 to 18. Although Feltham A could accommodate 180 children, there were just 148 in residence at the time of the inspection. This inspection concerned only Feltham A and, in keeping with our inspection arrangements for similar institutions for children and young people, was the latest in a cycle of annual inspections. The original Feltham was built in 1854 as an industrial school and was taken over in 1910 by the Prison Commissioners as their second Borstal institution. The existing building opened as a remand centre in March 1988. The current HM Prison and Young Offender Institution Feltham was formed by the amalgamation of Ashford Remand Centre and Feltham Borstal in 1990/91.
  4. Notable features from this inspection: in our survey, only 51% of children said they felt respected by staff; Feltham A has the only inpatient unit in the YOI estate; only 20% of children said they spent more than two hours out of their cells on Saturdays and Sundays; 30 children were being held for murder or attempted murder.
  5. This unannounced inspection took place between 14 and 24 January 2019.
  6. Please contact John Steele at HM Inspectorate of Prisons on 020 3334 0357 or 07880 787452, or at john.steele@justice.gov.uk, if you would like more information.