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Child held in unlawful isolation at Feltham Prison

AB v Secretary of State and Youth Justice Board [2017] EWHC 1694 (Admin)

The High Court has held that the segregation of a child for over 22 hours a day at Her Majesty’s Young Offender Institution (HMYOI) Feltham breached Article 8 of the ECHR and the Young Offender Institution Rules 2000. The Court also concluded that the failure to provide education breached the Young Offender Institution Rules 2000. The Court dismissed a claim that Article 3 had been breached.

Details

The High Court has held that the segregation of a child at HMYOI Feltham breached Article 8 of the ECHR and the Young Offender Institution Rules 2000. The Court also concluded that the failure to provide education breached the Young Offender Institution Rules 2000. The Court dismissed a claim that Article 3 had been breached.

The child, identified in court documents as AB, was locked in his cell for over 22 hours a day for more than 15 days at a time. AB’s isolation was declared unlawful for a total of 127 days because the prison failed to comply with the Young Offender Institution Rules 2000 which impose a range of safeguards and procedures to be put in place in light of the risks associated with isolation.

The Rules also require that children in prisons receive at least 15 hours of education a week: AB had no education at all for the first 55 days at Feltham, and only 15 hours in total in a two-moth period before the hearing. The court declared that this failure to provide education to AB was unlawful. Arguments regarding lack of resources, including staff shortages, were rejected.

The court found that even though there were a number of failings on the part of the YOI these did not amount to “inhuman and degrading treatment” the threshold was “not so low” and his treatment came “nowhere near a breach of Article 3”. The Howard League has lodged an appeal against this aspect of the judgment.

The court accepted that during the worst periods, when AB had no educational provision at all, “the lack of mental and physical activity contributed to his frustration and so to his disruptive behaviour”.

A report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons dated 30 June 2017 strongly criticised Feltham YOI for a sharp rise in violence and for the conditions that some offenders were kept in. The report stated that Feltham “is, quite simply, not safe for either staff or boys”.

AB was represented by the Howard League for Penal Reform. The Equality and Human Rights Commission also intervened in the case.

Commentary

The widespread use of solitary confinement of children in prisons in England was highlighted in 2015 in a report by the Children’s Commissioner. It found that one-third of children in prison will spend time in isolation and that the practice is used disproportionately in respect of children from looked after and ethnic minority backgrounds. The Howard League claim that the UK is out of step with a growing international consensus that children should never be placed in solitary confinement.