Teenagers at Ashfield Young Offenders Institution punished unlawfully, a judge rules
ASHFIELD Young Offenders Institution punished children unlawfully, the High Court has ruled.
The action taken against seven boys who protested about conditions on their wing was scrutinised after a legal challenge launched by the Howard League for Penal Reform charity.
Giving her judgment at The High Court in London today, Mrs Justice Nicola Davies condemned Ashfield for its “wholly inadequate system” for disclosing case papers and “woeful absence of knowledge” of legal duties displayed by staff. Mrs Justice Davies also found the boys’ right to a fair trial had been violated.
Ashfield YOI, in Pucklechurch, caters for up to 400 boys aged 15-18 and is privately run by a company called Serco.
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The court heard that the boys, aged 17 at the time and now all 18, were punished after they were involved in a protest on a synthetic sports pitch.
It was witnessed by a district judge, who was visiting the site at the time in his role as an independent adjudicator.
Despite being invited not to conduct the boys’ adjudication hearings or pass sentence on them, he did so and imposed extra days’ custody on each of them, totalling 90.
A claim against the independent adjudicator was settled in the boys’ favour last year and the additional days were taken off their sentences.
The court today heard Serco had failed to provide essential documents to legal representatives in advance of the hearings before the adjudicator.
And five of the boys were subjected to an informal “shadow segregation” regime, known as “restriction on the wing”, which lacked safeguards required for formal segregation procedures. All seven claimants have been represented by the Howard League.
The charity’s chief executive, Frances Crook, said: “This judgment confirms what we have been saying for a long time, and what the Government has now recognised – Ashfield is no place for a child.
“If staff don’t know what the prison rules are and make them up as they go along, how can children be expected to comply and learn to be good citizens?”
Ms Crook said there were 1,039 assaults recorded at Ashfield last year.
As previously reported, Ashfield will change to an adult prison at the end of the month, as the Home Office tries to make the YOI provisions across the country more efficient. The decision has not been made because Ashfield is “no place for a child”, as the Howard League claims.
Wyn Jones, Serco’s director for custodial services, said: “The care and treatment of young offenders is challenging and involves looking after some of the most vulnerable and difficult young people in society.
“It is right that we tackle unacceptable and threatening behaviour swiftly and robustly to ensure the safety of offenders and staff.
“However, we acknowledge that on this occasion some procedures were not followed, in particular those regarding the removal of the offenders from association over the weekend following the incident.
“We also acknowledge that we did not provide one of the offenders in this case with all necessary paperwork prior to an adjudication hearing. Serco expects the very highest standards and we have already amended our processes to ensure that this does not happen again.
“We are pleased that the judge confirmed that our actions to impose sanctions on offenders by limiting access to certain privileges, such as in-cell televisions and phones, to be lawful whilst also ensuring their continued participation in education in a way that managed the risk that they posed.
“Serco is fully accountable for the custodial services we provide to the Ministry of Justice and they are subject to constant scrutiny and inspection. We have thoroughly investigated all the issues raised in the court and responded to the changing and evolving case, in which many of the initial allegations were unfounded and withdrawn.
“This has been reflected in the judge’s decision which provides an equitable result, with each party bearing its own legal costs.”