One in 4 inmates at youth 'prison' held in virtual solitary confinement, say inspectors

Levels of violence mean constant juggling to keep feuding boys apart, they say

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Boys as young as 15 are being held in virtual solitary confinement in a youth prison plagued by gang violence, inspectors warn today.

The damning verdict was passed on Feltham young offender institution, west London, which houses 240 boys aged between 15 and 18.

It suffers high levels of “unpredictable and reckless” violence, forcing “constant juggling” by prison officers to keep apart feuding boys from 48 different gangs.

Nick Hardwick, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, protested that vulnerable youngsters were locked up for lengthy periods, with some only let out of their cells for one hour a day.

It was unacceptable that one-quarter of boys were “in effect experiencing solitary confinement”, he said.

Mr Hardwick said numbers of fights and assaults had fallen since the last inspection of Feltham, but remained too high with 262 incidents in just six months, including 79 assaults on staff.

The shadow justice minister, Dan Jarvis, said: “This concerning report is yet another example of the mounting prisons crisis.”

Andrew Neilson, of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “It is high time we stopped locking up children in large, violent institutions and invest instead in what works in rehabilitating children while keeping them safe.”

Michael Spurr, the chief executive of the National Offender Management Service, said the challenges faced by Feltham’s staff should not be underestimated.

“Many of the young people in their care have strong gang affiliations and a history of violence. Managing their behaviour and supporting them to change and turn their lives around is a difficult and complex task,” he said.