11:56, April 25 140 0 theguardian.com

2017-04-25 11:56:04

 

'Single unlock' prison regime breached youth's rights, court told

A child has been held in “prolonged periods of solitary confinement” at Feltham young offender institution, locked in his cell for 23 and a half hours a day and denied the education to which he is legally entitled, the high court has heard.

The youth, who has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety, cannot be identified. His lawyer Dan Squires QC told the court that the prison regime, known as “single unlock”, breached the boy’s rights and constituted inhuman and degrading treatment.

Over a period of almost two months the teenager was let out of his cell for only half an hour a day to make phone calls, take a shower or be given medication.

During that time, the court was told, he received no education and was not allowed into the gym, both of which are statutory requirements.

Squires said his treatment at the west London facility was not unique. “It’s common practice to hold children in these conditions, locked in their cells for more than 23 hours a day.

“There was an inspector’s report from 2015 which found that 25% of these boys [at Feltham] were being held in such conditions.” Similar problems exist at other YOIs, he added.

The legal challenge against the restrictive regime is being supported by the Howard League for Penal Reform. It is believed to be the first judicial review of the practice. The boy’s conditions are said to have improved since the charity raised his case with the Ministry of Justice.

Squires said there were no documents reviewing the boy’s conditions or considering whether they were necessary or whether they should continue.

“It’s inhuman and degrading treatment because it creates a long-term risk of permanent psychiatric harm,” Squires alleged.

The court was told that the MoJ had conceded there was no statutory authority for removing the youth from association with other children in this case.

Under the single unlock regime, when the offender is allowed out of his cell he is accompanied by three prison officers and is not allowed contact with other children.

Frances Crook, the chief executive of the Howard League, said before the hearing: “Caging children for over 22 hours a day is unacceptable. All the evidence shows that it can cause irreparable damage. This practice must cease.”

The children’s commissioner and another watchdog, the National Preventive Mechanism, have criticised the widespread use of solitary confinement for children in prisons in England and Wales.

They found that one-third of imprisoned children spent time in isolation, and criticised the “worrying number of instances where isolation was not subject to formal governance”.

The hearing continues.