Application for emergency debate (Standing Order No. 24)
I rise to propose that the House debate a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely the report on the inspection by Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons on Feltham young offenders institution.
The report, published on 30 June, follows an unannounced inspection earlier this year. The reports on both Feltham A, which holds children and young people, and Feltham B, which holds young adults, make for shocking reading. That is particularly true of the report on Feltham A, which houses boys aged 15 to 18. Both reports raise numerous concerns about safety and education and purposeful activities in each.
The report on Feltham A has found that the prison is extremely unsafe for staff and for the boys and young people in it, and that it has become more dangerous even since the inspections in 2014 and 2015. The increased violence, combined with staffing shortages, has meant that 15 to 18-year-olds are on restricted regimes that, according to the chief inspector, have done
“little or nothing to contribute to their education, socialisation or, clearly, their safety.”
This is in marked contrast to the more optimistic report of the last inspection in 2015. Indeed, this report suggests that things have got markedly worse in the past two years, and a serious crisis point has now been reached.
The youth justice system is there to prevent children and young people under 18 from offending or reoffending. What is happening now is a dereliction of duty: 15 to 18-year-olds are receiving, on average, 7.5 hours of education a week; and 19,000 hours of schooling per year have been lost through non-attendance and the cancellation of classes. The regime has been described as
“quite simply, not safe for either staff or boys.”
Some of the young men are being locked up for 22 hours every day. During the inspection, it was found that a third of prisoners were locked up during the school day and were therefore not receiving training or education. Indeed, the media is reporting today a High Court ruling that a 16-year-old boy’s human rights were breached by his being kept in solitary confinement at Feltham young offenders institution and that he was unlawfully denied access to education and the ability to mix with other inmates.
There is an urgent need for a response from the Government on these issues and a clear plan to address them, including on whether the cuts have now led to an unsafe level of resources. Other issues include statutory duties; contracts for the provision of education in prison; staffing levels, staff recruitment, staff experience and staff retention; and factors contributing to increased violence. Another issue is whether now is not the time for an urgent rethink of Feltham’s future.
Young people will be coming out of our youth justice institutions more traumatised than when they went in and with reduced life chances. This is our next generation, and we are supposed to be an advanced society. These are children and their future and their welfare should be a matter for urgent debate in this House.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for asking for leave to propose a debate on a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration—namely, the report of the inspection by Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons on Feltham young offenders institution. I have listened carefully to the hon. Lady’s application, but I am not persuaded that it should be debated under the terms of Standing Order No. 24.
The hon. Lady is an experienced and versatile Member of the House, and she will know that there are other opportunities to secure attention to the issue. She will know what those opportunities are in both question and debate forms, and I have a feeling that she will probably be beetling towards the Table Office ere long to try one of those other options.