Youth Offenders at Ashford Exposed to Violence and Abuse


A charity for prison reform, the Howard League, has branded Ashford Youth Offenders Institute (YOI) as being ‘no place for a child’, after reports of abuse and violence by YOI staff.

Youth Offenders Institute

Inmate injuries from abuse

Inspection reports show an increase in violent incidents at Ashfield YOI involving the young offenders. Levels of abuse are said to have worsened since plans to close the YOI were announced.

The report found:
  • Two cases of broken bones after use of force by staff
  • Routine strip searches of young people when they entered or left reception
  • A significant increase in self-harm incidents by inmates

Chief inspector of prisons Nick Hardwicke said: ‘At Ashfield, young people’s safety was compromised because they were exposed to unacceptable levels of violence.’

Situation deteriorated since closure announcement

Ashford YOI will be closed this coming July and instead it will be used as a prison for sex offenders. Young offenders at Ashford will be transferred to another facility.

These increased levels of abuse and violence are said to be linked to poorly prepared plans for transfer of both staff and offenders. In particular, the young people are said to have concerns over how they will access education facilities at the new YOI.

The sharp increase in self harm incidents of inmates is also said to be closely related to fears of transfer, as the teenagers have not been given sufficient information or help to prepare for the change.

Criticisms and court case

Reports of violence at Ashford YOI are not new. The news of increased abuse and violence at Ashford YOI follows a High Court ruling just last month. The legal challenge by the Howard League for Penal Reform was a result of 7 teenagers at Ashford being punished unlawfully after a protest against prison conditions.

Ashford YOI punished them with an extra day in custody. Their freedom in prison was also restricted and there were poor safeguards for their welfare.

Although concerns of violence in the report are said to be linked to anxiety over transfer plans, the Howard League recorded 1,039 assaults at Ashfield YOI just last year.

Children used to the violence

Disturbingly, when the young offenders were asked whether they felt safe at the prison, most of them said ‘yes’. This is despite record levels of self-harm incidents, poor treatment and violence at the hands of staff.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform explains that, “So embedded was this culture of control by physical force that dangerous practices had become normal to them.”

Mr Crook speaks of the latest report of abuse and violence as a "damning postscript to a long story of violence and harm in this privately-run children’s prison."

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