Campaigners have raised concerns about standards at a privately-run young offender institution after it emerged the use of segregation has doubled in the past three years.
According to figures released in parliament, boys at Ashfield young offender institution (YOI) near Bristol were segregated from the normal prison wing and kept in solitary confinement 377 times in 2011, a sharp rise from the 188 incidents recorded in 2008.
It is the second time in two months that standards of care at the YOI have been criticised.
Last month, a report by the chief prisons inspector Nick Hardwick found the use of restraint against boys at Ashfield was “extremely high”, while strip-searching was the norm rather than the exception.
In one month alone, 480 strip searches were conducted at the prison, despite no evidence that they led to the recovery of illicit items.
“Only one month after it was revealed officers’ use of force on children at Ashfield has gone up nine-fold within the last year, we see the use of segregation has doubled in the past three years,” said Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform.
“Segregation removes children from the normal prison wing, takes them from regular education and severely restricts their movements,” he said. “Children are unable to associate with other children and placed in a bare cell alone for days on end.”
The conditions in segregation are not conducive to a therapeutic rehabilitative environment designed to tackle offending behaviour and turn children’s lives around, he said.
“Rather it is designed as an emergency measure and so it is concerning these emergency measures are being utilised on such a large scale,” Neilson said.
Worryingly, this type of information is not freely available, he said. “The use of segregation is not routinely assessed or centrally monitored and some children are held for very long periods of time without proper scrutiny,” he said.
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