Ashfield young offenders begin legal battle

Ashfield Young Offenders Institution
Image caption The young offenders were accused of taking part in a protest on a sports pitch which resulted in damage

Seven teenagers who claim they were punished unlawfully at a privately-run young offenders' institution are having their case heard at the High Court.

Lawyers have asked a judge to rule on "serious concerns" about the treatment of detainees at Ashfield in Bristol.

The inmates were punished following a sit-in protest on a sports pitch, which resulted in equipment being damaged.

Serco, which runs the site, is defending the legal action but has declined to comment.

'Serious concerns'

Lawyers from the Howard League for Penal Reform said it was unlawful for the teenagers to be punished "by awarding them additional days; subjecting them to an informal version of segregation without any safeguards; and removing privileges and rights such as restriction to education and the gym".

Charity officials asked Mrs Justice Nicola Davies to end an informal segregation regime - known as "restriction on the wing" - at the young offenders' institution.

In written arguments, Phillippa Kaufmann QC told the judge: "This judicial review claim raises issues of fundamental importance concerning how children are disciplined at [Ashfield].

"The claim raises serious concerns both regarding the treatment of these seven young people, and many more general concerns in relation to all those currently held there, and who may be held there in the future."

She said the "informal segregation or cellular confinement" operated without stringent safeguards and was of "particular concern".

Ministers and bosses at Ashfield are disputing the claims at the hearing, which is expected to end later this week.

Earlier this year, inspectors criticised Ashfield's procedures for locking prisoners up until they calmed down, saying monitoring and governance of the measures were "inadequate".

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