Child prisoners let out of solitary confinement for just '15 minutes a day' - report

Ian Collier, news reporter

Child criminals are being held in "harmful" solitary confinement with some let out of their cells for just 15 minutes a day, according to a report.

A "major overhaul" of the policy of separating children in young offender institutions (HMYOIs) has been called for following the investigation by the Chief Inspector of Prisons.

Peter Clarke said the policy effectively amounts to them being held in "harmful solitary confinement with little human contact and in conditions which risk damaging their mental health".

He called for an "entirely new approach" after his report found "fundamental flaws" in the use of separation at the five establishments in England and Wales, which hold around 600 offenders aged 15 to 18.

Around one in 10 young offenders spoken to by inspectors had been separated during their time in custody and "in the worst cases children left their cells for just 15 minutes a day", according to the findings.

Other report findings include:

The report, based on an inspection in May and June, found "multiple and widespread failings" although it said there were some areas of better practice, such as in HMYOI Parc.

Inspectors found "significant" cause for concern in 57 cases it reviewed and 85 interviews it conducted with inmates and staff.

There would be occasions when it was in a child's best interests to be separated for the risk they posed to others, or for their own protection, inspectors said.

But staff should still ensure they have access to daily activities during this time and work to reintroduce them to a normal regime, the report recommended.

Mr Clarke added: "The regime offered to most separated children was inadequate.

"The weaknesses of current practice and oversight are of such a magnitude that we recommend an entirely new approach, and that current practice be replaced."

Justice minister Wendy Morton said: "It is difficult to read this report and not conclude that we are failing some of the children in our care - that is completely unacceptable and I am determined it will not continue."

The inspectors visited Cookham Wood in Kent, Feltham A in west London, Parc in South Wales, Werrington in Staffordshire, and Wetherby and Keppel in West Yorkshire.