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Feltham Young Offenders Insitute
Young offenders at risk

At Feltham in the last year there has been a murder, a teenager has hanged himself, and there have been numerous attempted hangings. Steve Bradshaw reports on the conditions that have created a culture of violence and self-harm at the notorious prison for young offenders.

Feltham Prison sees 20,000 Young Offenders come in and out of its doors every year. It has been estimated that as many as eight out of 10 have some kind of mental disorder.

The prison authorities barely have time to know who they are, let alone assess if they have problems. One year on from the murder of Zahid Mubarek, basic information is often not available on prisoners entering Feltham.

Zahid was murdered by his cellmate, Robert Stewart, who had a history of violent behaviour. According to the official report into the incident, they should not have been sharing a cell.

Zahid Mubarek
Zahid Mubarek was bludgeoned to death by his cellmate
Despite the report, in many cases wardens, personal officers and even the governor himself is unaware of the backgrounds and crimes committed by some inmates.

When asked if a similar incident to the Zahid murder could happen again, new governor Nick Pascoe admits, "There is always a possibility that might happen again. I cannot say that will never happen again."

By last summer the courts were sending so many young people to jail that Feltham was flooded.

Ex-assistant governor Ian Thomas says the "result was a juvenile centre capable of looking after 180, resourced to look after 180, being asked to deal with sometimes 310, the overspill put into dire accommodation with nothing to do."

Feltham warned both its own bosses in the Prison Service and the Youth Justice Board, responsible for allocating juveniles to prisons, that young people were being held in unacceptable conditions. But nothing was done.

A Feltham prison cell
Inmates spend long periods in their cells
Ian Thomas eventually resigned, protesting at what he called Dickensian conditions. At one stage kids aged 16 and 17 had been moved to an adult wing against all the rules.

As juveniles they were supposed to have at least 10 hours out of their cell a day. But on the adult wing they would sometimes be locked up for 20 hours or more in unacceptable conditions.

Depression

Inmates tell Panorama how being locked in a cell for so long can affect you. Ben says, "When you get so depressed, you just ain't got the will to live, you just think f*** it."


There were phases... where we would have 10 or 15 (suicide) episodes in a day

Steve Jeffries
There are frequent code ones or suicide alarms across Feltham, including one whilst we were filming. One former inmate showed us how to make a noose from a bed sheet in a matter of seconds.

Steve Jeffries, formerly GP at the prison, says, "There were phases, certainly, when I worked in Feltham, where we would have 10 or 15 episodes in a day."

Feltham has developed a course in stress and suicide awareness to deal with the hanging culture. Children as young as 15 are warned about the risks and dangers they are under, and who they can talk to.

But 17-year-old Kevin Henson did not know where to turn. He committed suicide after coming in on remand with severe alcohol problems.

He had been a perfectly ordinary kid until his mum died from cancer on his 14th birthday. Her death changed Kevin's life forever, and he started to drink heavily.

His sister, Natasha Burles, says, "He thought his life was so rubbish that if he had a can of lager... everything would be alright and it wasn't."

Kevin was charged with malicious wounding after getting involved in a drunken brawl. He was sent to Feltham to join the hundreds of other young men on remand, but he would never stand trial.

Call for help

Kevin tried to come off alcohol whilst in prison. His father, also called Kevin, says, "Kevin spoke to me and wrote in his letters about Feltham saying it was the worst place in the world... and he felt that he should be getting some help rather than punishment."

Natasha Burles
Natasha Burles found prison visits distressing
Kevin's depression was made worse by the prison's strange and often complicated rules. His family could not work out how to get him a change of clothes, cash or tobacco.

They did work out how to visit, but it was a distressing experience. Natasha says, "it was horrible because there was all sort of boys, sort of 16 year-old boys sitting crying... it wasn't nice at all."

It was to be the last time Kevin talked to his family. The next day he went to court for a hearing, desperate for bail so he could visit his mum's grave. It was refused.

Suicide watch

Nobody at Feltham spotted how distressed Kevin was. There were other young men on his wing who were on suicide watch and were specially monitored.

There was only one support officer on watch for the whole wing. She would have received just a few days of on-the-job training.

Prison Officer Nigel Herring says, "If you're having to check on all those particular prisoners and we're talking about one operational support grade doing that, it's a near impossible task in my opinion."

No sound from Kevin's cell had disturbed the support officer that night. But Kevin was found dead by a prison officer the next morning. Rigor mortis had set in and he could have been hanging there for up to six hours.

Kevin Henson
Kevin Henson believes his son did not get the help he needed
Kevin left notes saying that he couldn't bear Feltham and wanted to be with his mother. He also said that he asked for help with his alcohol problem, but that none was offered.

Steve Jeffries says that he warned the management on a number of occasions about the risks of alcohol dependency in this age group, but nothing ever happened.

Nick Pascoe, the current Governor of Feltham, says, "It's unfortunate that it was allowed to happen, I have to say. I see no point in trying to blame people, a genuine oversight was made and now we're rectifying it."

Kevin's father is not convinced. He says, "They're not looked after. It seems to be too easy for them to harm themselves. Lessons have not been learned."

The very same exposed pipes that Kevin hung himself from are still in the cells despite many calls for them to be removed. And there are still many young men in Feltham who want to harm themselves.

Panorama takes a candid look at Feltham Young Offenders Institute in Boys Behind Bars. Click on the link below to watch the programme.

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