Month: November 2015

Sexual abuse in child custody and residential schools

The Goddard Inquiry has announced that the sexual abuse of children in custodial institutions, and the sexual abuse of children in residential schools, will form two of its first 12 investigations.

The scope of the custodial investigation is summarised as follows:

“The Inquiry will investigate the nature and extent of, and institutional responses to, the sexual abuse of children in custodial institutions, including Secure Children’s Homes, Secure Training Centres, Youth Offender Institutions, and their precursor institutions (‘custodial institutions’). The investigation shall incorporate case specific investigations and a review of information available from published and unpublished reports and reviews, court cases, and previous investigations in relation to the abuse of children in custodial institutions.”

Medomsley detention centre, in Durham, will be one of this investigation’s case studies. Run by the Home Office between 1961 and 1987, Medomsley detained 17 to 21 year-olds. The first reports of physical abuse emerged in 1967, when a mother contacted her local MP. Today, Durham police is investigating 1,240 complaints of abuse by former inmates.

The scope of the residential schools investigation is summarised as follows:

“The Inquiry will investigate the nature and extent of, and institutional responses to, child sexual abuse in residential schools, including schools in the state and independent sectors and schools for children with disabilities and/or special educational needs. The inquiry will incorporate case specific investigations, a review of information available from published and unpublished reports and reviews, court cases, and investigations, and a consideration of the Inquiry’s own commissioned research.”

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, comments:

“We very much welcome the inclusion of custody and residential schools within the Inquiry’s first investigations. There is so much to be acknowledged about the abuse of children in these environments. The investigation on sexual abuse in custody is particularly significant because this will involve robust, independent scrutiny of the actions – and inactions – of those working in central government, including within the prison service.”     

Ministry of Justice predicts no decrease in child prisoner numbers

Unless there are changes in law and/or government policy, the Ministry of Justice predicts there will be 700 boys incarcerated in young offender institutions every year between 2016 and 2020. Latest data shows there were 682 boys in young offender institutions in September 2015.

The official predictions mean England will continue to be one of the leading child incarcerators in the Western world. In 2013, the annual Council of Europe survey of prison populations in 47 member states found England and Wales was surpassed by only two countries, Russia and Turkey, in the number of children we imprison.

The annual prison population projections also predict girls will continue to be held in other settings, and that the number of female inmates aged 18-20 years will reduce by halve between 2016 and 2020 (from 200 to 100). No change is anticipated for males in this age group.

Read the official predictions here.

Lack of fresh air “seriously detrimental” to children’s health in prison

The latest inspection report on Feltham young offender institution states many boys have less than 30 minutes daily access to fresh air. Inspectors from the Care Quality Commission considered such deprivation to be “seriously detrimental to the health, development and wellbeing of growing boys”. Apparently the prison has now moved to a system of 60 minutes of exercise a day for these 16 and 17 year-olds.

Inspectors repeat their strong recommendation that boys should not be held in the segregation unit, which also detains young adults. This recommendation was first made after an inspection in January 2013.

The segregation of children had increased by 37% since inspectors were last on the premises. Boys can be locked up for as much as 22 hours a day, in cells that have no electricity. The environment is “grim and featureless” and follows the adult prison regime, inspectors say.

In the foreword to the report, the chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick, praises some “impressive” staff and managers working in the prison, noting that “all too often the boys [the prison] holds have been written off by community agencies”. He also states the resources and staffing within the prison are “insufficient for the task”.

Read the inspection report here.

Nearly 1 in 3 children tried to tell someone about sexual abuse

A major inquiry conducted by the Office of Children’s Commissioner for England finds that only a tiny minority of children who are sexually abused within the family are helped by professionals. Around 50,000 cases of child sexual abuse were recorded by the police and social workers across the two years to March 2014, though the Children’s Commissioner estimates the true incidence of abuse during this period to be between 400,000 and 450,000 children.

A survey of 756 adults sexually abused as children found 31% had tried to tell someone about the abuse. Of those who reported how many people they had tried to tell (n=226), 20% of children had told more than five or many. The top three categories of people told about abuse were mothers, friends and teachers.

Of 220 people who answered a question about whether the abuse stopped after they told someone, just 22% (48) said it stopped completely and 40% said the abuse remained the same. One in five children said the abuse worsened after they had told someone.

One of the inquiry’s recommendations is that schools provide compulsory lessons about healthy and safe relationships and give children information about seeking help from professionals if they are abused. Article 39 fully supports this and would further recommend that a single and highly publicised national child protection telephone number be introduced, whereby children can be directed to their local authority child protection services 24 hours a day, akin to the 101 police number.

Read the inquiry report.

Article 39 submits evidence to Commission on FOI

The Commission on Freedom of Information issued a call for evidence on 9 October, with a deadline of midnight tonight.

Article 39 has submitted evidence of important information brought into the public domain because of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. This includes information: about the restraint techniques authorised for use in secure training centres (child prisons) run by G4S and Serco; data on the strip-searching of children in custody, together with the number of times force was used to remove children’s clothes; and prison officers disciplined for mistreating children.

We also highlight information that has been requested and refused, including: confirmation that ministers have obtained legal advice in respect of the deliberate infliction of severe pain as a form of restraint in child prisons, and publication of such advice; the prison service review report into the sexual abuse of women and girls in Downview prison in Surrey; and the manual showing restraint techniques in the Minimising and Managing Physical Restraint (MMPR) system, introduced into child prisons from 2013.

Read our submission.