A teenage boy was locked alone in his cell for 23-and-a-half hours a day during his time in a young offenders institution, a court has heard, prompting campaigners to warn that the solitary confinement of children in the UK is a “widespread concern”.
The 16-year-old spent time in conditions amounting to solitary confinement for “almost the entirety of his time” at Feltham young offender institution in west London, being permitted no contact with any other child and allowed out only to "shower, use the phone or exercise alone, accompanied by two officers, for 30 minutes a day", his lawyer told a judge in London on Tuesday.
Dan Squires QC said the treatment of the teenage boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was not the result of “unique problems he poses”, but “reflects the routine practice” of Feltham in response to the many children there “whose behaviour is regarded as difficult”.
Mr Squires said: “It is widely recognised by a series of different international and domestic bodies that the prolonged solitary confinement of children constitutes cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and should be absolutely prohibited.”
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, which brought on the judicial review action on behalf of the child, said before the hearing: “This is a widespread problem and it is getting worse. In just the last week, several more children, held in prisons across the country, have asked the Howard League for help because they are in almost total isolation.
"Some of the children we have represented have been in solitary confinement for up to nine months and have been subject to very similar regimes to the boy in this case. They have been allowed out of their cells for about 30 minutes a day, with little or no access to education, limited access to exercise or fresh air, and no association or meaningful intervention.”
The Howard League has said the UK is “out of step with a growing international consensus that children should never be placed in solitary confinement”.
The hearing, which continues on Wednesday, comes days after a report by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) revealed that British young offenders had suffered “inhuman and degrading treatment” due to being locked up for nearly 24 hours at a time, in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The report found that on occasion juveniles were being held in conditions “akin to solitary confinement” for up to 80 days in Young Offenders Institutions (YOIs) for reasons of “discipline and good order”.
CPT Vice President Mark Kelly said that during the visit to Cookham Wood they found that youngsters were being banned from taking part in education and activities, and were instead spending all day locked in their rooms, apart from half an hour of exercise, with “only a TV for company”.
The report came after a recent investigation by The Independent uncovered more than a dozen examples of teenagers being held in what amounts to solitary confinement in prison, including children with serious mental health problems, in breach of UN torture laws.
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