HMIP Inspections of Feltham

The Feltham A side of the prison was given an inspection in summer of 2015, and the Feltham B side was inspected a year earlier. The full reports can be read at the Ministry of Justice web site, just follow the links below. In their latest report the inspectors said of Feltham A:

Staff and managers at Feltham young offenders institution (YOI) have one of the most difficult jobs in the prison system. The Feltham A, which we inspected on this occasion, held 180 boys, most aged 16 or 17, with very complex and challenging behaviour, some of whom were a danger to themselves and to other boys and staff. Feltham has had a troubled history and is subject to intense scrutiny, but all too often the boys it holds have been written off by community agencies, and the resources and staff Feltham has to meet the needs of the boys held are insufficient for the task. Nevertheless, despite continuing serious concerns, this inspection found Feltham A making real progress with credible and positive plans for the future. There is much to be learnt from the history of Feltham and some of the impressive staff and managers who work there. The review the government has recently started into youth justice should look, listen and learn.

The number of violent incidents remained very high although it had reduced since the last inspection. There had been 209 violent incidents in the six months before this inspection compared with 262 in a similar period at the last inspection. A third of boys said they had felt unsafe at some time and the number who said they had been victimised by other boys had increased from 21% to 37% since the last inspection. A small number of boys were too frightened to leave their cells and spent about 23 hours a day hiding, locked away behind their doors. Some incidents involved very violent group attacks on a single victim. We watched CCTV of one incident in which a very courageous female officer crouched over the fallen victim of a group attack and used her body to shield his head from blows while she was kicked and punched herself. In the seven months from January to July 2015, 49 officers had been injured that had resulted in 683 days absence. 40 assaults on staff had been referred to the police.

Levels of use of force were also high but had reduced since the last inspection. Most incidents were to protect and restrain boys involved in fights. We were pleased that progress was being made on the introduction of new restraint processes that emphasised de-escalation. At the time of the inspection, the use of segregation in the bleak, unsuitable care and separation unit shared with young adults, was also high and an informal system of ‘basic for violence’ resulted in some boys being only allowed half an hour out of their cell a day. There were also a high number of adjudications using a cumbersome and slow process designed for adults.

It was impressive that managers were responding to these huge challenges in a positive and thoughtful way. There was a clear strategy to provide greater incentives for good behaviour as well as sanctions for bad. It started simply with encouraging staff to acknowledge and praise good behaviour. Two units had been designated as violence and gang free and provided tangible incentives to aim for. Feltham A had even started offering release on temporary licence to boys who demonstrated they could be trusted. There were well developed plans to open an enhanced support unit for the boys with greater needs and a new care and separation unit, separate from that used for young adults, and designed to meet the needs of the Feltham A age group. These new facilities would be combined with psychologically led programmes to address behaviour. The use of body worn cameras by staff appeared to be having a positive effect and there were effective relationships with the police.

Substance misuse services had improved since the last inspection and were excellent. The safeguarding team and a weekly risk management meeting were effective at identifying the most vulnerable boys and coordinating action between different departments to protect them. Support of boys at risk of self-harm was generally good – but undermined by the length of time some of these boys spent locked up with too little to distract them. The strategy and work of specialist teams was not yet fully demonstrated by staff as a whole. It was welcome that the plethora of different behaviour management schemes which had been confusing and ineffective at the last inspection had been replaced by one system, ‘positive attitudes created together’ (PACT); this was promising but not yet fully understood by staff or consistently implemented.

The levels of violence and poor behaviour were impacting on Feltham’s ability to get boys out of their cells and into purposeful activity. The average amount of time boys had out of their cell had reduced since the last inspection and averaged just 5.5 hours on week days and 4.35 hours at weekends. We found 38% of boys locked in their rooms during the peak working day. CQC colleagues were shocked by how little outside exercise the boys had – 30 minutes a day or less – and the detrimental impact this was likely to have on the health of the adolescent boys. As this report was being finalised we were told that a new core day offered at least two one-hour exercise slots each day. This needs to be consistently implemented. Education staff had made good plans to meet the new requirement to offer 30 hours education a week – but it was hard to see how this could be achieved unless the discipline staff were better able to manage the behaviour that so severely restricted attendance. Outcomes in vital English and mathematics were too low. More needed to be done to motivate boys who struggled in the classroom by improving the quality of teaching and a better mix with vocational training.

The improvements were most noticeable in – despite everything – the improved relationships between staff and boys. These were the best they have been for many years. The environment was generally good and work on equality and diversity issues was effective. Feltham A made good use of advocates to ensure the complaints process was effective. Health care was excellent. Boys complained to us that they were often hungry and portions did indeed appear small for boys in this age group – this was hardly likely to improve their behaviour or concentration in education. There was a Feltham-wide reducing reoffending policy that did not sufficiently focus on the needs of boys in Feltham A and their distinct needs. Most boys said they did not have a training plan; in fact they did, but their inability to recognise it reflected that it was not central to their time in Feltham, easy to understand or given to them to keep. However, a team of committed caseworkers worked hard to provide good support, social workers ensured local authorities met their obligations to ‘looked after’ boys and meet practical resettlement needs despite some significant obstacles. We know that families have a crucial role to play in resettlement and visit arrangements and family work needed improvement.

Feltham A has a long way to go and at present there are very serious concerns about the safety of the boys held there. However, it is making real progress and it has the right strategy to make more. It has impressive, committed, leadership and staff are responding to that. Sustained, consistent effort will be needed to make the further improvements required, there may well be setbacks, and it will be important that managers and staff receive equivalent sustained and consistent support from both the YJB and NOMS.

Nick Hardwick September 2015

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons”

And in their report on Feltham B they said:

“Our last inspection of HMYOI Feltham B in March 2013 was one of the most troubling we had undertaken for some time. Against all of our healthy prison tests, outcomes were poor or not sufficiently good. We called for a radical rethink of Feltham’s role. This inspection found the prison and NOMS had responded positively to our findings. Feltham B still faces significant challenges, particularly a high level of staff vacancies, but in a period when outcomes in many other establishments have been declining, Feltham B has improved significantly in almost every area.

Our last inspection recommended that:

“NOMS (The National Offender Management Service) should carry out an urgent review of the viability of Feltham, as it is currently constituted, as a suitable location for large numbers of young adult prisoners. Alternatives for their location, and safer and more constructive management should be considered.” 

In response to this recommendation, NOMS took the decision that young adults who were remanded or those serving very short sentences should no longer be held at Feltham B and most young adults in these categories are now held in London adult local prisons. As we have reported elsewhere, the management of these young adults in the adult estate still causes us considerable concern but there is no doubt Feltham B is more stable as a result and outcomes are much better for those young men serving longer sentences who continue to be held there. The improvements we have found are not simply a result of the change in Feltham B’s role. Managers and staff on the site deserve great credit for the work they have done.

Feltham B was now much safer than it had been before. Reception arrangements had improved. Levels of violence had reduced considerably and were now comparable with similar establishments. In the six months before the previous inspection there was an average of about 215 fights and assaults a month; in the six months before this inspection the average had fallen to 98. At our last inspection 42% of prisoners told us they had felt unsafe at some time in Feltham B; at this inspection the number had fallen to 24%. The number of ACCTs (case management documents for prisoners at risk of suicide or self-harm) opened in the six months before each inspection had fallen from more than 140 to 54. Of course, these figures are still objectively high and the report indicates areas where further improvements are needed to respond to violence and support prisoners at risk, but the improvements already made are a major achievement. Drug use was very low and support for those with substance misuse issues was generally good.

At the previous inspection we were extremely concerned about the unprecedented frequency with which batons were drawn and/or used. Batons had been drawn 108 times in the 12 months before our previous inspection but just six times in the six months before this inspection. The use of force overall, while still high, had also fallen, as had the number of formal adjudications and the use of segregation. In view of these improvements in safety, some security measures were now disproportionate but because of the establishment’s recent history, we supported the establishment’s approach of making changes cautiously and ensuring they were embedded before proceeding further.

Some reception and induction arrangements needed adjustment to take account of the prison’s new role. The improvements in safety reflected improvements in relationships between staff and prisoners. Prisoners reported positive engagement with staff and we witnessed some examples of this. However, this was still a work in progress. A small number of uniformed staff were still dismissive and disinterested and this undermined the work of their colleagues. Some prisoners complained with some justification that they were treated like children. Work on equality and diversity had been impacted by staff shortages. Prisoners from black and minority ethnic backgrounds and Muslim prisoners were less positive than white and non-Muslim prisoners. Monitoring was not sufficiently comprehensive but it was clear that prisoners from black and minority backgrounds were disproportionately involved in disciplinary processes. It was unacceptable that young adult Muslim prisoners were unable to use the mosque for prayers. Eight foreign national prisoners were held beyond the end of their sentence; at the time of this inspection one had been held for a completely unacceptable two years after the end of his sentence. Prisoners told us they did not have confidence in the discrimination complaints system and this reflected weaknesses in the complaints system as a whole. The number of complaints had risen dramatically since the last inspection and there was no analysis of why this was so or underlying trends. Investigations into complaints about staff were not robust enough.

The physical environment had much improved although we still found areas that were grubby and in a poor state of repair. Cells were cleaner and with much less graffiti – prisoners were expected to keep them so and held accountable if they did not. Health services had improved since the last inspection but there were some weaknesses in medicine management. Prisoners with diabetes were not permitted to keep blood testing kits or insulin pens in their cells and so could not monitor their own health and manage it accordingly. There were no individual assessments to balance security and health risks involved. There was good support for prisoners with a range of mental health problems and there was excellent training of prison staff about mental health awareness. The Albatross unit provided a good therapeutic environment but during the inspection the disruption caused by the presence of one very challenging young man adversely affected the care of others on the unit. Transfers to secure hospitals took much longer than the two week target because of delays in external assessments and funding issues.

The provision of purposeful activities had improved but from a very low base and there was still much more to be done. Ofsted judged that the leadership and management of learning and skills were good and the prison made effective use of the resources it had available. But there were simply not enough activity places to meet the needs of the population and this was particularly unacceptable in an establishment whose function now was essentially a training prison for young men. Fully employed prisoners could have about eight hours out of their cells on weekdays. The half of the population who only had part-time activities were locked in their cells for about 20 hours a day and the 10% of the population who were unemployed only had about two hours out of their cells during the week.

The quality of the activities available had improved and good progress was being made on tackling the significant remaining weaknesses. The appointment of a special education needs coordinator and an additional learning support tutor had helped tutors to better support prisoners but provision was insufficient to meet demand. Literacy and numeracy were crucial to a prisoner’s future progress and while achievements in these areas had improved they were still too low. The promotion and delivery of English and mathematics in all lessons required improvement. Vocational training was good. Good use was made of prisoners who were ‘red bands’ or trusted orderlies. This gave them the opportunity to gain worthwhile experience that should have been accredited. With careful supervision and governance, the use of red bands could have been usefully extended to other areas such as meeting new arrivals at reception. Gym facilities were good and there was a well-stocked library but staffing shortages restricted access.

Resettlement and offender management had not been sufficiently adapted to Feltham B’s new role. Prisoners were now spending longer at Feltham B so offender management services needed greater priority. This was hampered by the fact that so many prisoners arrived at Feltham B without a completed OASys assessment which should have identified what was needed to address their behaviour and manage their risks. Without an OASys assessment a sentence plan could not be completed and so prisoners’ opportunity to progress was obstructed. The backlog of OASys assessments needed to be addressed at a regional or national level. National changes to offender management systems and the start of the new National Probation Service all contributed to weaknesses in offender management at the time of the inspection. Public protection arrangements were not sufficiently rigorous and it was particularly concerning that weaknesses in community-based offender management meant that prisoners’ multi-agency public protection arrangements (MAPPA) levels were sometimes identified only just before they were released, which compromised planning to manage their risks. There were few offending behaviour programmes to directly address prisoners’ behaviour

Practical resettlement services were generally better, although resettlement agencies struggled to find some young men accommodation on release and there was too little work to help them address debt and money issues. Work to help prisoners develop and maintain family relationships had improved and increased but was still limited. The prison made effective use of well-managed release on temporary licence (ROTL) to prepare prisoners for release. During the inspection, young men left the prison with staff to take part in an overnight Duke of Edinburgh Award exhibition – something that would have been impossible to manage at the time of our last inspection.

The report of our last inspection of Feltham B stated it was one of the most concerning we had recently published. In contrast, this report describes much greater progress than we have recently seen elsewhere. This is, in part, a consequence of strategic decisions about Feltham’s role but it is also largely due to the skilled and determined work of managers and staff. There is still much to do and the management of young adults in other parts of the prison estate is still a major concern. In addressing these wider issues, much can be learnt from Feltham’s decline and subsequent improvement.

Nick Hardwick                       January 2015

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons”

Return to Feltham

To read the full reports, go to the Ministry of Justice site or follow the links below: