Ahead of tonight’s screening of BBC Panorama’s ‘Teenage prison abuse exposed’, here’s five facts about Medway secure training centre.
1) It was the first of four secure training centres to open, in April 1998. Originally designed for 12 to 14 year-olds who persistently offend, the upper age increased to 17 with the passing of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. The building of jails for young children attracted strident criticism from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the large children’s charities and penal reform groups. The Howard League for Penal Reform threatened legal action, because of the inherent risks to the safety and well-being of children. At least three-quarters of those first admitted to secure training centres had previously lived in children’s homes.
2) The last inspection of Medway was undertaken by Ofsted, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons and the Care Quality Commission in September 2014. It was judged good with outstanding features. Inspectors commended “extremely positive” relationships between children and staff. However, it was noted that, since Medway had introduced the new Minimising and Managing Physical Restraint (MMPR) system, the number of restraint incidents per month had doubled. There was one incident captured on CCTV footage which inspectors said showed inappropriate behaviour by a member of staff towards a child. This had not been picked up by G4S managers. The Director “acted swiftly when it was brought to his attention”, the report notes. At the time of the last inspection, 45% of children living at Medway had previously been in care; 25% said they were disabled (they needed help with long-term physical, mental or learning needs); 25% were aged under 16; and one in five had felt unsafe at some time at Medway.
3) G4S has held the contract to run Medway since 1998. In 1999, inspectors described its early months as “turbulent”, with staff lacking the skills, qualifications and experience to work with vulnerable and volatile children in this penal environment. A team of 12 staff, drafted in from other establishments to help, was dubbed the ‘restraint squad’. Inspectors noted the deleterious effect of having inexperienced staff with a penal approach: “The over reliance on the use of restraint and single separation [segregation] as primary means of control, and the fact that trainees felt aggrieved and powerless confirmed them in a ‘victim’ role. This perception enabled them to justify their own aggressive and destructive behaviour”.
G4S was back in the headlines in 2004, after the horrific restraint death of 15 year-old Gareth Myatt in another secure training centre, Rainsbrook in Northamptonshire. A very small boy, Gareth was held down in a seated position by three officers who ignored his cries that he couldn’t breathe. No prosecutions or sackings followed Gareth’s death. During the inquest into Gareth’s death, it emerged G4S’s restraint instructor called herself ‘Clubber Clay’ and other officers had nicknames like Mauler, Breaker and Crusher. The director of the centre was unaware of the contents of the restraint manual, which contained the rules and methods trained to staff. G4S held onto the contract. Then in 2010, a former Rainsbrook team leader was convicted of causing actual bodily harm to a 13 year-old boy who spat at him: the officer was given a suspended prison sentence.
A highly critical inspection report, published in May 2015, led to G4S losing its contract to run Rainsbrook (the transfer is in process). Inspectors found serious incidents of gross misconduct by staff, including racism, illegal drug-taking and children being distressed and humiliated. One boy with a fracture possibly caused by restraint was not taken to hospital for 15 hours. Despite these serious failings, and the loss of the Rainsbrook contract, in September 2015 the Youth Justice Board announced that G4S had been successful in “a competition” to run Medway for another five years. The contract value is £89 million.
4) The director of Medway is required by law to notify the police and the Youth Justice Board of any child who has been seriously injured and abuse or harm is known or suspected. Local child protection procedures require immediate referrals to children’s services (the local authority) when a child is known or suspected to be suffering significant harm. Youth Justice Board monitors are required to scrutinise practice and report any concerns to Ministers.
5) Medway is on the same grounds as Cookham Wood young offender institution (for 15 to 17 year-olds) and Rochester prison for adults, both run by the UK prison service. In the early planning, it was called Cookham Wood secure training centre. Its physical location, and the governing legislation (Prison Act 1952), clearly signal this was always intended to be a prison.