Youth prisons 'most violent' in UK - an officer will die if they're not armed with spray warn unions
A PRISON officer is likely to be killed in a youth detention centre if they are not urgently given protective spray to incapacitate violent young offenders, union bosses have warned. There are less children than ever being locked up, but those that have been are convicted of murder or serious violence, the government has admitted. A source said use of PAVA spray in youth detention will only be "considered" once every adult prison officer has access to it. Young offender prisons across England are more violent than any housing adults according to prison staff unions, but officers supervising them are banned from carrying the PAVA spray routinely used by colleagues in the adult estate for "political" reasons.
Inmates include the likes of Jakele Pusey, 15, (above left) and Jovani Harriott, 17, (above right) who a judge allowed to be named this week as they were jailed for the murder of Huddersfield schoolboy Khayri Mclean on September 21 last year.
Jakele, who pleaded guilty, was jailed for a minimum term of 16 years while Harriott, who was found guilty, was handed a minimum term of 18 years.
The two boys carefully planned the murder before brutally attacking him with a knife and leaving him to die.
The sentencing judge lifted the reporting restriction prohibiting identification of the teenagers due to the severity of the offence.
Violence has been on the rise in youth facilities since the start of the year due to more teen killers being locked up alongside violent members of rival street gangs. The government does not allow officers in youth prisons to be armed with anything because they are supervising "children", but the unions argue the levels of violence seen means this must now change. Carl Davies, PGA National Officer, said: "This decision is made by HMPPS backed by ministers who do not want the spray routinely used on children. "But these are the same children who are running round the streets with four-foot machetes stabbing each other and when they go into the youth custody estate they typically don't change their behaviour overnight." POA Chairman Mark Fairhurst warned members at the union's annual conference this month that he fears there will be an officer killed if they cannot be provided the spray and other protection. He has also written to the Ministry of Justice stressing the urgency. In the letter, seen by Essex News and Investigations, he wrote: "I am placing on record my warning to you that if you do not act in a timely manner and issue staff in the under 18 youth custody estate with PAVA there will be a death due to a serious assault and a lack of protection. "Staff need to be able to protect themselves and prisoners, and we need PAVA rolled out to act as a deterrent, to use as a tactical option for staff and to convey a clear message that we will not tolerate violence in our youth prisons. "I would urge you to view CCTV coverage of the many violent incidents that have taken place since the start of the year in our under 18 prisons, so you may judge for yourself how effective PAVA would have been in subduing violence and reducing the numerous serious injuries staff and prisoners received. Without your intervention we are heading towards a murder in our under 18 estate and I urge you to act sooner rather than later."
There are four youth custody centres in England at HMP Feltham (above), west London, HMP Wetherby, North Yorkshire, HMP Werrington, Staffordshire and HMP Cookham Wood in Kent. Mr Fairhurst said since the start of these year all four had "experienced significant rises in violent incidents and instances of concerted indiscipline." He added: "Both staff and prisoners have been subject to serious assaults resulting in hospitalisation. You will note that staff working with prisoners under the age of 18 do not carry any form of personal protective equipment or significant deterrent whatsoever yet their counterparts in the adult estate predominantly do. "The youth custody estate, specifically the under 18 estate, is the most violent cohort of prisoners within the entire prison footprint yet Prison officers are denied any form of protection due to the political sensitivities surrounding them officially supervising ‘children.’ "It is very rare that children are sentenced to a custodial term and the ones that are subject to incarceration are some of the most violent, anti-authority and disrespectful individuals you would ever have the misfortune to meet. It is simply unacceptable that Prison Officers should be expected to tolerate extreme levels of violence against them without adequate protection in place.
"Over recent months we have witnessed staff receiving life-changing injuries due to serious assaults on them and individual prisoners being attacked en-masse by rival gangs and having their heads stamped on. Most recently an attack at Cookham Wood resulted in a prisoner being stabbed and having his head stamped on by several assailants. Staff were unable to use any tactical options so intervened and risked receiving life-threatening injuries. If they had the option to deploy PAVA this incident could have been quelled instantly." A Ministry of Justice (MoJ) source said: "The number of children in custody has fallen by 77 per cent in the last decade – from nearly 2000 in 2012 to just 454 last year. "This creates the challenge that those in custody have largely committed violent offences; they are some of the most complex and vulnerable children in the justice system, and we will continue to work tirelessly to help them turn their back on crime "We know levels of violence across the estate have been too high and are working hard across all sites to address this. "Once we have rolled out PAVA to all adult prisons we will consider its use elsewhere across the estate." A Prison Service spokesperson said: “The welfare of our staff is paramount and they receive specialist training and wear body-worn cameras to keep themselves and children in custody safe.”