Exclusive: Prisons inspector says strip searching and special cells for young offenders are over-used

The practice of automatically strip searching young offenders
before they are held in segregation and holding them in bare
conditions in special cells is “more common than it should
be”, the chief prisons inspector told Community
, writes Clare Jerrom.

Anne Owers said the procedure should only happen if risk
assessments have been carried out, and if it is “absolutely
necessary” for the protection of the child and others.

Her experience was that this was not always the case and she
warned: “This needs to be monitored carefully by the Youth
Justice Board and the governors of juvenile

Owers also called for the periods of time that disruptive young
offenders are held in “special cells” in juvenile
establishments to be made publicly available.

Just a month after the Home Office insisted special cells only
existed in Stoke Heath Young Offenders Institution, it emerged last
week that 19 different institutions have the cells, which were used
more than 150 times last year alone. Prisons minister Paul Goggins
failed to specify exactly how long the children had been held in
these conditions.

While Owers acknowledged that in the majority of cases, special
cells would only be used for short periods, she warned: “This
is an extreme sanction and we need to know what’s

The inspectorate would monitor use of the cells and how long
children are confined in them, and publish the results in
forthcoming inspection reports, a move she hoped would
“improve the quality of information available”.

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