Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, reports on the worrying figures on the number of children held in segregation.
A prison inspection report (pdf) last month revealed a nine-fold rise in the use of force at the Serco-run Ashfield young offenders institution within a year, from an average of 17 times a month to 150.
Force must only be used as a last resort where there is an immediate risk to life or limb and not simply to obtain compliance with staff instructions.
The most frequent reason for the use of force at Ashfield given in five out of the six preceding months was “failure to obey staff instructions”.
Yesterday, a parliamentary question revealed the use of segregation has doubled at Ashfield in three years from 188 in 2008 to 377 in 2012. The increase in restraints can’t be explained by a larger prison population either. On average there were 333 boys in Ashfield in 2012. There were only 317 on average last year.
The parliamentary question also revealed 24 children were held for more than 28 days in segregation. Ashfield detains boys ages between 15 and 18 years of age.
Segregation removes children from the normal prison wing, takes them from regular education and severely restricts their movements. Children are unable to associate with other children and placed in a bare cell alone for days on end.
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The conditions in segregation are not conducive to a therapeutic rehabilitative environment whose sole purpose is to get to the root of offending behaviour and help turn children’s lives around. Rather it is designed as an emergency measure and so it is concerning these emergency measures are being utilised on such a large scale.
Worryingly, this information isn’t freely available. The use of segregation is not routinely assessed or centrally monitored and some children are held for very long periods of time without proper scrutiny. The Howard League is continuing to look at this issue.