Mar 7 2013
Teenagers held at a young offenders' institution were unlawfully punished after taking part in a protest over conditions, a High Court judge has ruled.
Mrs Justice Nicola Davies said five teenagers were confined to cells for three days at Ashfield, which is near Bristol, in breach of a rule governing discipline.
She said the boys' treatment amounted to "segregation by another name". The judge also said five teenagers had been unlawfully banned from using a gymnasium for two weeks. She also concluded that prison bosses had breached human rights legislation by failing to provide paperwork to one teenager's legal representative.
Campaigners who had complained about the way detainees were treated at Ashfield said the ruling confirmed what they had been "saying for a long time".
Seven teenagers who were detained at Ashfield, which is privately managed under contract with the Ministry of Justice, had taken legal action - backed by the Howard League for Penal Reform. Ministers and bosses at Ashfield, run by Serco, had disputed claims at a High Court hearing in London in December.
Mrs Justice Nicola Davies, who issued a written ruling, said the teenagers had launched a judicial review claim after being penalised in the wake of a protest in February 2012. All of the teenagers who had taken legal action were 17 at the time of the protest.
The teenagers had made a number of complaints relating to "unlawful disciplinary measures" and "unfair adjudication". The judge upheld some of those complaints.
Detainees had staged a protest against a decision to remove the toilet seats from a residential block, said the judge. About 14 had gathered on a sports pitch which had been "out of bounds". "Some of them began to damage one of the goalposts," said Mrs Justice Nicola Davies. "A decision was made by the staff to withdraw from the pitch."
She added: "Ashfield was shut down causing significant disruption. A command centre was opened, the position on the pitch was monitored. A number of the young persons armed themselves with pieces of the broken football goal and approached the laundry room, where they began to threaten a member of staff.
"Some were threatening each other on the pitch... A team of custody officers in protective gear went down to the pitch, at this point the majority of the young persons surrendered. Four or five were unwilling to do so ... they were restrained by staff."