Children will not be sent to a high-profile young offenders’ institution after an “extraordinary” plunge in public safety.
The government has temporarily halted placements at Feltham A in west London, which holds teenage boys aged 15 to 18, after a damning inspection uncovered soaring levels of violence and self-harm.
Despite the number of children being held at the institution falling from 148 to 108, there has been a 45% rise in violent incidents since January.
Assaults against staff – some of which have been described as “very serious” – have soared by about 150%.
Meanwhile, levels of self-ham have tripled over the past six months and are now 14 times higher than they were in 2017.
Of the children spoken to during the inspection, 74% said they had been physically restrained while at Feltham A – and 40% said they had felt unsafe at some point.
One in three young offenders said they were only allowed out of their cells for fewer than two hours on weekdays, increasing to three in four of them at weekends.
Peter Clarke, the chief inspector of prisons, has used an urgent notification process to warn the government that conditions at the institution need to be improved.
In a letter to Justice Secretary David Gauke, he wrote: “We found that in the six months since the last inspection there had been what can only be described as a collapse in performance and outcomes for the children being held in Feltham A.
“The speed of this decline has been extraordinary.
“The atmosphere feels tense, and I could sense that many staff are anxious. Some were clearly frustrated about the situation in which they found themselves. They wanted to do their best for the children in their care.”
Justice minister Edward Argar has described the inspection report as “deeply disappointing and concerning” – and said placements were being suspended so staff can make improvements.
He added: “The governor, who is still relatively new in post, is working hard to drive improvement in an establishment which has one of the highest and most concentrated proportions of violent offenders in the country.”
The Ministry of Justice is going to respond with a formal action plan in 28 days.
Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner for England, has described the findings as “unacceptable” and said the “serious failings” at Feltham A must be addressed with urgency.
She added: “Children should not be held in institutions where there is violence, self-harm, staff force, poor care and an overuse of isolation, and no child should be sent to Feltham until there is a guarantee they will be kept safe.”
Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said: “Whoever takes over as justice secretary this week must go beyond the empty rhetoric that is the hallmark of this Tory government and finally make the safety of young people in custody an urgent priority.”