UK: Suicide at "Dickensian" Young Offenders Institute

Kevin Henson, a seventeen year old remand prisoner at HM Young Offenders' Institute (YOI) Feltham, west London, was found hanging by an improvised ligature made from torn-up sheeting from an electrical conduit in his cell early in the morning of 6 September.

Only last month, Deputy Governor Ian Thomas resigned his post at Feltham in protest at conditions in the jail which he described as "Dickensian". HM Chief Inspector of Prisons Sir David Ramsbotham also condemned the jail in his inspection report on Feltham following a visit in September 1999. In March this year nineteen-year old Zahid Mubarek was the victim of an attack in his cell motivated by racism at Feltham and died from his head injuries 5 days later (see Statewatch vol 10 no 2).

Suicides dogged the institution in 1991 when four boys were found hanged within eight months. A "highly critical" HM Inspectorate report had also been made in 1996. Deborah Coles Co Director of Inquest, said:

"It is difficult to convey my frustration and sadness at this death. The lessons that should have been learnt following the depressing series of suicides at Feltham in the early Nineties have not been learned and another teenager is dead. The responsibility for this death rests with the Prison Service who have failed to heed the warnings about Feltham, and with a criminal justice system that continues to send children to prisons and yet cannot ensure their safety. How is it that a prison with a shocking history of suicide and self-harm allows cells to be in use with accessible ligature points? Juveniles are the group most at risk of suicide and self harm, which makes the use of that cell even more outrageous. I have written to the Prisons Minister Paul Boateng MP asking what action he intends to take over this shocking death."

According to Inquest, who monitor deaths in prison and police custody, 12 young offenders aged 21 and under have taken their own lives in prison so far this year, including seventeen year old Philip Griffin in HM YOI Wetherby in August. Three of these deaths have taken place in HM YOI Brindsford. There have been 56 self-inflicted deaths within prisons this year.

Source: Inquest press release, 7 September 2000

For more information contact Inquest, 330 Seven Sisters Road, London N4 2PJ. UK.

tel: 020-8802-7430; fax: 020-8802-7450; e-mail: