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Category: Children

Blog: Steph’s story

PRT comment: HMYOI Cookham Wood

Blog: Independent Review of Children’s Social Care

PRT comment: HMYOI Werrington

PRT comment: Oakhill STC Urgent Notification

Commenting on the announcement today (14 October) that Ofsted, HM Inspectorate of Prisons, and the Care Quality Commission has triggered the Urgent Notification process for Oakhill Secure Training Centre, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“This is the third occasion that a Secure Training Centre has been found to be totally unfit to hold the children the government has entrusted to its care. It shows that our whole approach to the imprisonment of children is in urgent need of a rethink. As other governments have done before it, this administration has placed its faith in the invention of a new type of institution—on this occasion a ‘secure school’. But that looks dangerously like window dressing when the first example has yet to open nearly 5 years after the government announced this model as the way forward.

“In the meantime, custodial remand of children has increased sharply, and the government is legislating to punish children even more severely, taking less rather than more account of the scientific evidence on maturity.

“It’s time the government sought expert help to craft a practical national strategy. Without it, they are condemning more children to suffer abuse in a broken system.”

PRT comment: HMIP annual report on children’s experiences in custody

Commenting on HM Inspectorate of Prisons annual report on children’s experiences in custody, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“This damning report describes conditions for imprisoned children that predate the pandemic. It shows a third of children not able to shower once a day. Most of these teenagers couldn’t even play sport once a week. More than two out of every five had been bullied. And in a system where over half come from an ethnic minority, the colour of your skin led to an even worse experience across almost every aspect of daily life inside.

But despite these shameful facts, the government has published a white paper which will reverse the steady decline in the number of children we imprison, and which accepts that its proposals will have a disproportionate impact on children of colour. Parliament should refuse to countenance such an appalling prospect.”

PRT comment: Inspectorates’ report on conditions at Rainsbrook STC

Commenting on the publication of today’s (18 December) joint inspection report by Ofsted, HM Inspectorate of Prisons, and the Care Quality Commission, on conditions at Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre (STC), Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“The new Chief Inspector of Prisons is right to be astonished that management at Rainsbrook STC did not put right the shortcomings laid bare by a highly critical inspection earlier in the year. The challenges posed by the pandemic cannot excuse the prolonged solitary confinement of children, nor the fact that this appeared to need a further inspection to be brought to light.”

Robert Buckland: “it is absolutely not the intention” that video calls will substitute visits

Today the Prison Reform Trust published a letter it has received from the Secretary of State to Justice Rt Hon Robert Buckland MP QC regarding video calls in prison.

Responding to concerns raised by the Prison Reform Trust of the risk that video calls might become a substitute for face-to-face visits, the Secretary of State provides an assurance that “it is absolutely not the intention that video calling will be a substitute for face-to-face visits. Where face-to-face visits can safely be delivered and remain the preference, no prisoner should be asked to substitute that for a video call.”

Commenting, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“Getting video call technology into prisons has been a welcome side-effect of the pandemic in prisons. There’s a long way to go still and we know the system doesn’t always work perfectly, but it’s a welcome first step towards realising the huge potential of modern technology to transform what can be achieved in prison. It’s crucial that ministers press on and seize the opportunity for radical change.

“Back in June, a remark from the Lord Chancellor implied that in some circumstances video calls might be offered as an alternative to a face to face visit. So we asked for clarification that that wouldn’t happen—video calls are a great addition, but they must never be considered a substitute for the opportunity to see someone face to face if that’s what people want. It’s taken a while, but we’re delighted that the Lord Chancellor has now given the assurance we sought.

“The next challenge is to make sure that video calls become a normal, universal and affordable part of how family ties are maintained.”

PRT comment: Taylor review of the use of pain-inducing techniques in the secure estate for children

Commenting on the proposals in Charlie Taylor’s review of the use of pain-inducing techniques during restraint in the secure estate for children that was published on the 18th June, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“We welcome the decision to remove pain-inducing restraint from the MMPR syllabus. But the issue has been dogged by long delays, so absolute clarity is needed on the government’s position in relation to all the Taylor recommendations. That means prompt public commitments to what action will be taken and by when, and those are noticeably missing from the government’s accompanying response. Above all, the chronic overuse of pain inducing techniques has to stop—independent, transparent oversight is key, and the government’s apparent equivocation on that issue is a cause for concern.”

Charlie Taylor’s solution to one of the central dilemmas of the use of restraint in the custodial estate, how to minimise the sanctioned and deliberate use of pain against children, is to remove it from the restraint syllabus while leaving its use available to officers in “high risk situations”. This is a step worth taking, although it is important that public oversight is kept on the use of restraint in such “high risk situations”. In particular we need clarity on how staff will be trained to respond in such situations, what techniquess will be used (and how these will be sanctioned), as well as how such incidents will be managed and scrutinised. It is particularly important that debriefing of children should take place after each deliberate infliction of pain, that families should receive prompt notification of all incidents, and that advocates should always meet the child in the aftermath.

The government’s response to some of Taylor’s recommendations is disappointing. Slightly less than half are “fully accepted” and there are a worrying number that only receive “acceptance in principle”. Timetables for implementation are missing in their entirety, surprising for a report that the government has had for nearly a year.

An important issue from our perspective has always been that there should be greater levels of public awareness and scrutiny about what happens in children’s prisons. Taylor’s important recommendation to introduce national-level independent scrutiny of the use of pain on children has not been accepted. We believe he could have gone further than this. The outcomes of such scrutiny should be published.

We will press for the full implementation of Taylor’s recommendations.

The ultimate test here is whether reform leads to fewer instances of the use of pain. Time alone will allow this judgement to be made.

PRT comment: Urgent notification at HMYOI Feltham A

Commenting on the urgent notification issued by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons at HMYOI Feltham A, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“This distressing report stands in stark contrast both to previous evidence of some improvement at Feltham and to a very positive report issued only last week about a larger but otherwise similar Young Offender Institution in the north of England. This huge discrepancy in the quality of care demands the urgent attention of a new Justice Secretary, and the Chief Inspector is right to insist upon that. He helpfully points to the core issue – a need to address the causes of violence and escape the cycle of reacting endlessly to it.”

Photo credit: Andy Aitchison