London’s Young Offender Institution is one of the scariest prisons in Britain
In 1991, a 15-year-old boy from Great Yarmouth was sent to Feltham Prison in West London, about 200 miles from his home, for 188 days. His name was Jeffrey Horler. Jeffrey’s mother could not afford the trip to visit him, and while he was there, alone, he was told that his grandmother had died. A prison officer found him sobbing in his cell, where he was confined for as much as 21 hours a day. Social services denied him permission to go to the funeral. Shortly afterwards, he was found dead, hanged from his barred window. He had been sent to Feltham for setting fire to a shed.
In a House of Lords debate the following year, Jeffrey Horler’s suicide was raised. “That was the way we treated a child of 15 in Britain in 1991,” said Lord Harris of Greenwich. “We are in the position of discussing the third critical report on Feltham published within a period of three and a half years. I hope we shall not have to wait for a fourth report before these criticisms are addressed.”
About a month ago, nearly 22 years after Jeffrey Horler’s death, Jake Davis sat in a café in Islington, remembering his own experience of Feltham. Davis, who is 20 years old, achieved a certain notoriety when he was sentenced for hacking as part of the Lulzsec group in May. He had been in Feltham – which is split into units A and B, for children and young adults respectively – for only 38 days, but the experience had had a profound impact on him. He remembered one teenager who hadn’t been given a job, and wasn’t in education, and was consequently sometimes out of his cell for an hour or even less each day.
The young man, who had cuts all the way up his arms, approached the prison officers in the exercise yard. I’m sick of my cell, he said. I need to get out. I need a cleaning job. “They said, you can’t have a cleaning job,” said Davis, who had been told that he had committed a ‘gangster’ crime and given one of the coveted jobs himself within a few days of his arrival. “They said, this guy can murder people, that guy can hack computers. What do you do? You rob old ladies. You can’t have a job.”