Inspectors praise 'dramatic' drop in violence at YOI

Neil Puffett
Tuesday, May 8, 2018

A young offender institution (YOI) that has faced issues with gangs and high levels of violence in recent years has been praised by inspectors for "dramatic" improvements in safety.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said that Feltham A YOI, which holds around 140 young people, mainly aged between 16 and 17, became significantly safer in the last year following a critical report in early 2017.

There had been an 80 per cent reduction in assaults on staff and assaults on boys were down by a third. 

The report states that the improvements were, at least in part, due to the introduction of a new behaviour management philosophy, which at the time of the inspection in December 2017 and January 2018, was still being embedded.

"Last year we reported how the focus had been on sanctions and regime restrictions; there was a cycle of violence and punitive responses, with no obvious strategy in place to break it," Clarke said.

"This had changed, and we found a new focus on rewards and incentives for good behaviour."

There was also a positive impact from a new enhanced support unit opened for the most challenging boys, removing them from mainstream wings but also giving them a better regime and psychological input to understand and hopefully improve their behaviour.

"It was early days, but the new mindset offered more hope than the previous unremittingly negative approach to behaviour management," Clarke said.

Staff at Feltham A were also found to be patient, enthusiastic and dedicated, though some accommodation was found to be worn and neglected.

Although progress had been deemed to be made, violence was still found to be "high", and there were still concerns about the impact of London gang culture on the establishment.

Meanwhile, inspectors noted that a large number of looked-after children at the YOI did not always receive the support to which they were entitled from local authorities, in particular in ensuring suitable accommodation on release had been secured.

Inspectors also urged the prison to tackle a problem with some boys getting into debt through gambling.

"There had been excellent progress made at Feltham since the last inspection, and good leadership played a huge role in this achievement," Clarke said.

"There had been some very good initiatives and, following our last very critical report, it is pleasing to be able to report that there had been some significant investment in Feltham.

"However, the progress could easily prove to be fragile if investment falls away or leadership loses its focus. Feltham is an institution that over the years has seen peaks and troughs in performance.

"This latest inspection marks something of a peak after the trough of the previous one in 2017. It would be a great achievement if the improvement turns out not only to be sustainable but to give firm foundations for future improvement."

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: "There have been some improvements in Feltham and there had to be, because the prison was so dire at its last inspection that the inspectors declared it unsafe for boys and unsafe for staff.

"No one should pretend, however, that Feltham is a suitable place for a child. Less than half of the boys are able to have a shower every day, and we keep getting calls from children telling us that they are stuck in their cells for hours and hours on end."

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