Feltham a Young Offenders Institution

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:22 pm on 24th July 2019.

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Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice 2:22 pm, 24th July 2019

I am as ever grateful to the hon. Lady. As she mentioned, I spoke to her yesterday, and we met again this morning. I am grateful for her typically measured tone, not seeking to score points but focusing on what needs to be done to improve the outcomes for young people at Feltham. I know her constituents will be grateful to her as well.

The hon. Lady raised a number of issues that I will address in turn. Her first point was about the gap—the interregnum—between governors. She is right that there was a gap. The previous governor was promoted to a prison group director role and the recruitment process took longer than anyone would have wished. One of the key reasons was that the governor, who has now been appointed, had to serve a notice period in her previous role. The view taken was that she was the right governor to do this job and that therefore it was appropriate to wait. She served her notice and is now in post. I emphasise that I have confidence in her. I believe that she and her team are doing a difficult job very well, as the hon. Lady alluded to. I recognise the constructive and positive relationship between the local branch of the POA and the governor and her team, and I thank them in the same way.

On the root causes, there are a number of challenges at Feltham. As I said, it has a very high concentration of very violent and challenging young people. At present, I believe, there are 110 young offenders in Feltham A, which has an operational capacity of 180. There is, therefore, significant headroom to give the staff greater opportunity to tackle the violence and the underlying challenges faced by those young people. The hon. Lady will be aware, because we met to discuss it earlier in the year, of the violence in April and of the incidents of assaults on other prisoners and on staff. There were a large number of incidents of self-harm and violence but a small number of perpetrators. We have some very challenging individuals.

The hon. Lady was right to mention resources and the need for skilled resource. There has been a 31% uplift in the budget for Feltham A, with £3.5 million going in, and it has an opportunity to draw down further moneys from a second £5 million pot across the youth custodial estate. There are also 90 more staff across Feltham. The experience mix and band mix are broadly the same as they have been over time, but the hon. Lady was right to allude to the importance of experienced staff. We are bringing in extra senior and mid-level experienced resource to help drive change, both at the top level and to support those staff. I believe that seven senior staff have already been seconded, and there will be further changes in the coming days. Andrew Dickinson, the governor of Wetherby, is also taking on a role in supporting Emily, the prison governor. It will be a mentoring role, but he will also play a key role in monitoring the action plan. His institution got a good inspection report and we want to learn the lessons from that.

The hon. Lady raised two other points, which I will address swiftly. On fitness for purpose, current Government policy is to move away from the existing youth offender institution model and towards a secure schools model. Like the Minister who spoke before me at this Dispatch Box, I will not bind a future Government, but that is the current policy. In terms of keeping this House updated, I anticipate that the action plan will be ready within 28 days. I or my successor will write to the hon. Lady and the shadow Secretary of State when it is ready, so that they are kept informed, and we will continue to keep the hon. Lady, as the local Member of Parliament, informed throughout the action plan process.