HMIP Inspections of Feltham

Both the A & B sides of Feltham were given an inspection in July 2019. 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:

” HMYOI Feltham A is an institution in West London that holds children aged 15 to 18. It is jointly managed with an adjacent establishment, Feltham B, that holds young adults. Although on this occasion both establishments were concurrently inspected, this report is concerned solely with the inspection findings as they relate to Feltham A.

The recent inspection history of Feltham A is highly relevant to this report. Young offender institutions (YOIs) are inspected more regularly than adult prisons because of the particular risks and vulnerabilities associated with the detention of children and young people. In recent years, Feltham A has been inspected annually . Inspection findings have fluctuated over the years, but in January 2018 we found an establishment that we judged to be reasonably good in three of our healthy prison tests. In our report of that inspection I commented that the progress could be fragile and that it could be jeopardised if leadership focus were to be lost.

It was therefore disappointing to find, when we next inspected in January 2019, that Feltham had been left without a governor for a period of some five months during 2018. I reported that:

‘A new governor was now in post and beginning to stabilise the establishment, but it was evident to us that there had been a degree of drift resulting in deteriorating outcomes, notably in safety and care.’

However, by the time the report of the January inspection was published in June 2019, we had received deeply concerning information from a number of sources suggesting a possible further deterioration in treatment and conditions for the children being held in Feltham. I therefore decided to bring forward the next planned inspection, and this announced inspection took place in July 2019, barely six months after the last.

The outcome of this latest inspection was that we identified a dramatic decline across many aspects of Feltham A’s performance. The decline was so acute and the outcomes so poor that for the first time in an establishment dedicated to the detention of children, I decided to use the Urgent Notification (UN) process. This requires that in a letter to the Secretary of State I set out the key evidence underpinning my decision to invoke the process and the rationale for why I believe it is necessary. This letter is attached to this report at Appendix IV. The letter and the report itself set out the detailed findings of the inspection. In this introduction I shall refer only to some of the most troubling of our findings.

In terms of safety the number of violent incidents had risen by 45% since our inspection just six months previously. The number of assaults against staff, some of which were very serious, had risen by around 150% since January 2019 and the levels of violence among children was higher than at similar establishments. Levels of self-harm had tripled since the previous inspection and were now 14 times higher than they were in January 2017. The poor and unpredictable regime affected children’s well-being. Seventy-four per cent of children told us they had been restrained, but governance of and accountability for the use of force by staff had all but collapsed.

As far as our test of care was concerned, fewer than one in five children felt cared for by staff and the environment was such that it was difficult to build the effective relationships needed to manage poor behaviour, violence and self-harm. A third of children said they were out of their cells for fewer than two hours a day during the week. At the weekend this figure rose to nearly three-quarters. The poor regime and delays in moving children around the establishment had a highly disruptive influence on life at Feltham A. Resources were being wasted as health care staff, education facilities and resettlement intervention services stood idle waiting for children to arrive. These, of course, had all been contracted and paid for.

A key function of an establishment such as Feltham A is to provide education for the children held there, yet the provision had fallen to a little over eight hours a week per child, and attendance rates stood at 37%. Disturbingly, there were no plans in place to improve this. Not only were children not getting to education, but neither was education getting to them. In the four weeks leading up to the inspection some 800 hours had been scheduled to be delivered on residential wings, but only around 250 hours had actually materialised. Not surprisingly, Ofsted judged educational provision to be ‘inadequate’ in all areas.

The vital task of resettling children into their communities was impeded by the poor regime. Caseworkers and other professionals were often unable to gain access to children. Many were being released from Feltham A without stable accommodation, without education, training or employment in place, and without support from family or friends. In fact, family visits were regularly cancelled. Only one of the monthly family days had gone ahead since January, and this was attended by only one child. As I have said in my letter to the Secretary of State:

‘I do not for one moment underestimate the challenges facing the leaders and staff at HMYOI Feltham A. During recent months they have often faced violence, some of it very serious. The atmosphere feels tense, and I could sense that many staff were anxious. Some were clearly frustrated about the situation in which they found themselves.’

Despite the challenges facing staff, there now needs to be a fundamental change in approach at Feltham. The practice of containing the behavioural problems of the boys rather than addressing them had failed to deliver a safe or rehabilitative environment. Neither boys nor staff were safe. The negative cycle of containment and separation that we have commented on in the past still dominated the day-to-day lives of those who lived and worked in the establishment. As I have said in my letter to the Secretary of State:

‘This has led to a collapse of any reasonable regime, prevented many children from getting to education or training, delayed their access to health care, isolated them from meaningful human interaction and frustrated them to the point where violence and self-harm have become the means to express themselves or gain attention.’

The appalling situation we found during this latest inspection cannot be allowed to continue, and I was told that action had already been taken to ensure that improvements would follow. I hope that at long last there will be a recognition that Feltham, if it is to remain as an institution holding children in custody, must change in a more radical way than at any time in its troubled history. Short-term improvements followed by dramatic and dangerous declines should no longer be tolerated. I chose to invoke the Urgent Notification process not only because of the dire findings of this inspection, but also because it gives the opportunity for the Secretary of State to bring his personal authority to bear to demand decisive action and bring about lasting change.

Following the issue of the Urgent Notification, the Youth Custody Service decided to ‘temporarily pause new placements of young people to Feltham A’. I have recently been informed that following a risk assessment ‘the operational decision has been made to restart new placements at the establishment’. I hope this decision proves to be well founded.

Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM          September 2019

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons”

And in their report on Feltham B they said:

“HMYOI Feltham B holds convicted male prisoners aged between 18 and 20. It is situated adjacent to and comes under the same management as Feltham A, which hold boys aged between 15 and 17. At the time of this inspection the prison held around 360 prisoners. The prison was last inspected in January and February 2017, when we found that outcomes for prisoners in three of our healthy prison tests – safety, purposeful activity and rehabilitation and release planning – were not sufficiently good. We judged respect to be reasonably good. On this occasion we found there had been improvements in safety and rehabilitation and release planning which were now reasonably good, but a decline in purposeful activity which was now poor. Despite this latter judgement, overall the results of this inspection mark a significant achievement for an establishment that has faced similar pressures to many others that have not been able to maintain, let alone improve, their overall level of performance in recent times.

It is also worth reflecting on the context in which this inspection took place. As a result of concerns that had been reaching HMI Prisons about conditions at Feltham, but in particular Feltham A, I decided to bring forward the scheduled inspections of both Feltham A and B and to conduct concurrent inspections of both parts of the overall establishment. The outcome of the Feltham A inspection is the subject of a separate report.

Having expressed concerns elsewhere that Feltham had been left without a governor for some five months during 2018, I am reassured to be told that the two parts of the establishment will, in future, each have their own dedicated deputy governor in an effort to ensure greater resilience and continuity. I hope that this will allow Feltham B to continue to make progress, and avoid the risk of managerial focus being diverted to address the many problems we found during the inspection of Feltham A. The progress that had been made to date at Feltham B was creditable, and was reflected in the fact that in the space of some two years, it had managed to achieve or partially achieve around half of our recommendations from the last inspection. This was a better rate of achievement than we often see.

In terms of safety, there were distinct weaknesses in the strategic management of violence, the use of disciplinary procedures through the incentives and earned privileges (IEP) scheme and oversight of the use of force. However, the weaknesses were, to some extent, ameliorated by good relationships between staff and prisoners and, compared with other similar establishments, fewer prisoners felt unsafe at the time of the inspection and fewer reported being victimised. There had been a slight rise since the last inspection in violence between prisoners, but against staff it had reduced significantly.

A feature of the establishment that needed attention was the impact that security processes were having on the ability of prisoners to access education, training, work and health care. It was telling that our colleagues from Ofsted commented that ‘across the prison, managers did not do enough to ensure that all aspects of the prison regime contributed to prisoners’ good attendance and punctuality’. Quite apart from whether prisoners were getting to the activities to which they had been allocated, there was also the issue that there were only sufficient full-time activity places for just over half of the population. Meanwhile, some 20% of the entire population were employed as residential unit cleaners and painters, where they were under-occupied and poorly managed. We also found, when we conducted our roll checks, that some 37% of prisoners were locked in their cells during the working day, which is far too high a figure for a training prison. Inevitably, the judgement we came to for purposeful activity was that it was poor, and the section of this report that sets out the findings in this area is worthy of close attention.

Despite the weaknesses in purposeful activity, we found that respect had improved, supported by the good relationships between staff and prisoners. In particular, the keyworker scheme was making a positive contribution. Living conditions in the residential units had improved since the last inspection, but the condition of cells was no more than adequate, there was still too much graffiti, and there was still a pressing need for refurbishment in some areas, particularly the showers.

Although the quality of health care services was generally good prisoners, as noted above, were all too often unable to get to their appointments because of regime restrictions or security measures. For instance, in June prisoners failed to attend 58% of the appointments made with the doctor, around 35% with the dentist and 80% with the optician. This was clearly an unacceptable waste of NHS resources.

It was pleasing to see that the well led and well-organised Offender Management Unit had reduced the backlog of Offender Assessment System (OASys) initial assessments from 56% to 19% in the space of six months. This was a significant achievement, and in marked contrast to what we see in many establishments. Nevertheless, all prisoners should arrive at Feltham with a completed assessment, and most did not. This was indicative of a systemic weakness that we frequently see during inspections, and clearly needs to be addressed as the OASys sits at the heart of offender management processes.

Feltham B is a complex and challenging establishment in which to achieve the outcomes that should be of real benefit to prisoners and public alike. It was reassuring that some real progress had been made since our last inspection. Clearly there was still much to do, but we were heartened by the positive attitude of many staff about what could be achieved, and the sound relationships between many staff and prisoners that underpinned much of the progress that had already been made. We have seen in the past that progress at this complex establishment has proved to be fragile. I hope that on this occasion it will prove possible to build on what has been achieved and sustain it into the future.

Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM                                  September 2019

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: