The chief prisons inspector has pledged to monitor the use of
“special cells” in young offenders institutions after the Home
Office admitted that they were used more than 150 times last year
but failed to say for how long.
Speaking exclusively to Community Care, Anne Owers called
for the periods of time that disruptive young offenders were held
in the special cells in juvenile establishments to be made
Prisons minister Paul Goggins told the House of Commons earlier
this month (news, page 6, 15 January)that special cells existed in
19 young offenders institutions, despite the Home Office insisting
the previous month that they only existed in Stoke Heath Young
Offenders Institution in Shropshire. However, Goggins failed to
specify how long children had been held in the special cells.
While acknowledging that in most cases special cells would only be
used for short periods, Owers promised that the prisons
inspectorate would now monitor the cells’ use and publish the
results in forthcoming inspection reports.
“This is an extreme sanction and we need to know what’s happening,”
Owers added that the practice of automatically strip searching
young offenders before they were held in segregation in special
cells or elsewhere was “more common than it should be”.
She said the procedure should only happen if risk assessments had
been carried out and if it was “absolutely necessary” for the
protection of the child and others.
Explaining that her experience was that this was not always the
case, she said: “This needs to be monitored carefully by the Youth
Justice Board and the governors of juvenile establishments.”
Meanwhile, Owers has also recommended that psychiatric units should
be built for prisoners of all ages with mental illnesses.
In her annual report, published this week, Owers says mental health
continues to be a major problem with a large number of prisoners
suffering from either acute or chronic mental disorders.
At a briefing on the report, Owers added that the new units would
be focused on treatment and interventions but that the costs could
fall on the Department of Health rather than the Home Office.
She said: “I wouldn’t call them a new generation of asylums,
because asylum has an entirely wrong connotation. It’s a new
generation of support and treatment services. Care in the community
for many of the people we see in the prison system simply does not
exist at all. They end up in prison as the only safe and secure
Owers also reiterated concerns about girls aged under 18 sharing
accommodation in prisons with “extremely disturbed” adult women and
services for escorting young people from courts to some young
In relation to juvenile establishments, Owers said child protection
arrangements “remain patchy”.