Home Office admits to far wider use of special cells in institutions

Special cells for disruptive young offenders were used in 13
different juvenile establishments last year, despite earlier Home
Office assurances that they were only used at Stoke Heath Young
Offenders’ Institution.

The Howard League for Penal Reform raised concerns about the cells
in Stoke Heath, which have no toilet or furniture, after it emerged
one young man had been held there for five days (news, page 6, 4

Phil Wheatley, the Prison Service’s director general, said the case
was “extraordinary” (letters, 18 December) and, last month, a Home
Office spokesperson told Community Care: “We are as
certain as we can be that the special cells you refer to are not
being used by juveniles in other prisons.”

Yet, in response to a parliamentary question last week, prisons
minister Paul Goggins revealed that special cells were used on 154
separate occasions by 13 different juvenile establishments last
year. Six more establishments had cells but did not use them.

Howard League director Frances Crook said: “I don’t know whether
it’s a cover-up or incompetence. Either way it is pretty

Huntercombe YOI in Nuffield used the cells the most frequently, on
46 occasions, followed by Feltham YOI, west London, which used them
32 times.

Special cells in Bullwood Hall Young Offenders’ Institution, which
holds female young offenders, were used three times last

Goggins failed to confirm how long children had been held in the
cells, but said they were only used for “the temporary confinement
of a violent or refractory prisoner, not as punishment”.

A Home Office spokesperson insisted this week that, as soon as the
original justification for using the cell had ceased, a young
person would be removed. Confinement would usually be for “a small
number of hours” and only in “very exceptional cases would it be

But Crook said children had alleged they had been held in special
cells for “several days”. She slammed the practice as “child abuse”
and called for the cells’ abolition.

Mark Oaten, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson, who tabled
the question, said the Home Office should explain what happened in
the cells and exactly how long children were held for. “Until that
happens, we simply cannot accept the government’s assurances,”
Oaten said.

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