Children displaying disruptive behaviour in Stoke Heath Young
Offenders’ Institution in Shropshire are being stripped naked and
locked in small cells with no light, furniture or toilet for days
at a time, Community Care has learned.
Martin Narey, the commissioner for correctional services, confirmed
in a letter to the Howard League for Penal Reform last October,
when he was director general of the Prison Service, that these
special cells existed and that a child had been held in one for
five days once.
This week, more than a year after the charity contacted Narey to
express its concern, the Home Office admitted to Community
Care that the cells were still in use and had been occupied by
juveniles “three times in the past three months”.
A Home Office spokesperson said the two cells in the segregation
unit at Stoke Heath were intended for offenders who displayed
“extreme violence towards others” and were used only until the
aggression became “manageable”.
She added that the Home Office was “as certain as it could be” that
such cells were not being used for juveniles in other prisons.
Although the Home Office said children were kept in the cells for
“typically a few hours”, the league believed some were held in them
for “several days at a time”. Recently it received allegations
about a young person being held in one for five days earlier this
year. The league also warned that those children most difficult to
control were “likely to have mental health problems”.
It was alerted to the cells’ existence last autumn by someone
concerned about a young man who was self-harming and showing signs
of mental distress.
Fran Russell, assistant director of the charity, said: “Placing
children in these cells can only exacerbate mental health problems
and damage these young people further.”
The charity believes the cells are unlawful under the Human Rights
Act 1998 and has called for their abolition.
Although more than half of young offenders have had previous
involvement with social services and levels of sexual abuse among
this group are high, Narey admitted last October that clothing
would be removed if it threatened a child’s safety – an experience
Russell said was likely to “traumatise” children who had been