A report into Feltham young offenders’ institution finds high levels of violence, including “unacceptably high” use of batons by staff, and young people living in fear.
Inspectors at the young offenders’ institute witnessed almost two fights or assaults every day, some of which were recorded as very serious and gang-related.
Staff at the west London institution drew batons 108 times and used them 25 times in the year of 2012: “much higher” than any other prison, said inspectors.
Elsewhere, many young people said they were frightened at the time of the inspection and had little confidence in staff to keep them safe.
The report was described by the Chief inspector of prisons himself as “one of the most concerning published recently”.
An unacceptably violent place HM Inspectorate of Prisons
It was met with widespread concern from offenders charities, prompting the Prison Reform Trust to say that Feltham should “frighten us all”.
Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This is the worst inspection report of its kind we have seen in a decade. If you want to see the effects of keeping hundreds of troubled boys cooped up in a prison, you need look no further than Feltham.”
Feltham is divided into two parts, Feltham A holds children and young men, mostly aged 16 or 17, while Feltham B holds young adult men aged 18 to 21.
Two reports into both institutes were published on Wednesday, but as a whole, it was described as “an unacceptably violent place” by the HM Inspectorate of Prisons.
Chief inspector of prisons Nick Hardwick said: “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.”
He said the number of times that staff threatened to use batons was far more that what prison inspectors expect and that they were not always used as a last resort.
“We were given little assurance that this was always as a last resort, proportionate to the risk posed or subject to appropriate subsequent managerial scrutiny,” he said. “In the CCTV footage we watched, we saw baton use that constituted an excessive use of force and referred this to the management team for investigation.”
Michael Spurr, chief executive 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 among 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.”
In the young adults part of the prison, self-harming behaviour remained high and emergency cell bells were not answered quickly, said the report.
Some of the fights witnessed were described as serious, and involved “very violent, pre-meditated attacks on a single individual”.
Examination of CCTV footage led inspectors to say that the force used by staff in Feltham A was proportionate and necessary. But the isolation of children for up to 10 days was considered unacceptable.
In Feltham B, which holds up to 522 young men, inspectors found that that standards had “deteriorated significantly” and that there was urgent need for reform. They raised concerns that an average of 40 per cent of the prison population were locked up and inactive.
A source who regularly worked at Feltham over a year ago told Channel 4 News that some of the problems at the institute were derived from the fact that it held young men on remand.
“You get people sent there directly from being picked up – some of these lads will be coming from the streets, they might still be on something. All this will add to the volatile nature of the place,” he said.
Mr Hardwick said that he cautiously welcomed a decision taken after the inspection to not hold young adults on remand as this may help to create a more stable and manageable population.
But he said that urgent change was needed, both in the short-term and the long-term, to help turn it around.