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Care System Accused of Teens Locked Up with No Support

care system accused over teens locked up in youth jail

Watchdog warns that the social work team at Feltham Young Offender Institution in West London is failing to provide “the in-depth work that is necessary with some of the most vulnerable children.” This is partly down to the failure of local authority social workers to conduct visits.

The independent monitoring body for Feltham consists of a juvenile offender facility and a young adult prison. The body said that “almost 60 per cent” of teenagers, aged between 15-18 years old, were in need of “full care directives” or classified as “needy children” when they arrived at the prison. 

Denying teens support 

They warn that this is not only distressing staff but denying teenagers – including some jailed for rape and murder and some of the most troubled and vulnerable in London – statutory visits from social workers received by the local authorities.

“Alarming” rise in violence

The board has reported the findings in an annual report, shedding light on an “alarming” rise in violence, such as attacks with broken toilet seats and sharpened toothbrushes. They ask ministers to deal with the findings, while commending staff for “potentially saving a life” by intervening in an attack where five inmates attacked another young prisoner. The report reveals other acts of violence including teenagers assaulting a teacher and taking another teacher hostage.

Watchdog also warns that gang culture is being “tacitly encouraged” in the prison as a result of keeping teenagers in small “bubbles” marked by colour. The report says that this practice began during the pandemic but is an ongoing problem that “may be threatening to others”.

The high number of children coming into Feltham

The report makes note of the high number of children coming into Feltham from the care system, and says that any weaknesses likely to lead to offending should have received expert attention. 

Last year, the Metropolitan Police published a report that revealed an increase in youth homicide. The findings showed an increase by 18% in 2021 compared to the previous year and by 20% when compared to the pre-pandemic period. The report also found that 23% of homicides were for teen victims – a higher proportion than 2020 and 2019.

In response to the findings, London’s mayor Sadiq Khan put a total of more than £8m into a gang exit programme. The scheme, led by the charity Safer London, is a programme that aims to help young people move away from crime. In order to rescue vulnerable children from crime, a Safer London caseworker said that support meetings are crucial. 

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“A serious indictment of the effectiveness of the care system that the government needs to address”

“The gang culture outside of the prison should not be reflected within Feltham by the practice of placing prisoners with those they most like to associate with,” the board says.

“Dismay has been expressed that long-term community service young people have come to Feltham with rape and murder charges or convictions,” the report reads.

“Many young people have moved straight away from local authority care, either with a full care directive or with child in need status. This is a serious indictment of the effectiveness of the care system that the government needs to address.”

Final thought

Watchdog has continuously monitored the conditions at Feltham. Back in 2015, Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick said “staff in Feltham A still struggled to manage this behaviour in a safe and secure way.”

“Staff need more help to do this and I repeat my call for the Youth Justice Board (YJB) to initiate an independent expert review of its policies and resources for managing behaviour, reducing bullying and supporting victims across all YOIs.”

Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons

The previous report indicates the continuous lack of support at the Young Offender Institution. While Mr Khan has invested £8m in the gang exit programme, the support system stops at Feltham. Statutory visits should be provided to inmates, yet the growing number of offenders combined with staff cuts is preventing teenagers from getting the support they need. 
The worrying findings suggest that the Institution not only strips teenagers of the right for support but tacitly encourages gang culture by confining teenagers in small “bubbles” marked by colour.

Curia’s Levelling Up Commission

In the year ahead, Curia’s Levelling Up Commission will be holding inquiry sessions, conducting data analysis, as well as running regional sprints that delve deep into topics in the areas of

  1. Health and Social Care
  2. Education Skills and Training
  3. Housing and Homelessness
  4. Crime, Justice and Rehabilitation

If you would like to know more about the work or contribute to the same, please reach out to shivani.sen@chamberuk.com

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