A damning report into G4S-run Medway secure training centre is published today, setting out in extensive detail the abject failure of a wide range of organisations, chief among them G4S and the Youth Justice Board (YJB).
The 61-page report brings into the public domain substantial new evidence of child abuse at Medway, and the ineptitude of agencies charged with monitoring, overseeing and advocating for the rights of children detained there. It was written by an Independent Improvement Board, established by Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, at the end of January. Specific findings include:
- No single body has taken responsibility for safeguarding children at Medway secure training centre. The report describes a chain of statutory bodies, including the YJB and the Office of Children’s Commissioner, falsely believing children were safe because other agencies had not raised the alarm
- Across a 7-year-period, prior to 2016, the Youth Justice Board received 35 separate letters of concern about children’s treatment in the three G4S secure training centres (Medway, Oakhill and Rainsbrook). Yet there was “very little evidence that a serious attempt had been made [by the YJB] to organise the accumulated evidence or analyse the data”
- The YJB Monitor who had a legal duty to report concerns to the Justice Secretary was located by G4S in an office where she could not see children when they were in the outdoor space. G4S also prohibited the Monitor from viewing CCTV, which would show instances of restraint for example, claiming incorrectly this would breach data protection. Children interviewed as part of this independent review had no idea of the role of the Monitor
- The independent advocacy service, managed by the children’s charity Barnardo’s, was not valued by children or rated by the Improvement Board. Advocacy services for children in residential settings were first established in the wake of the children’s homes scandals of the 1980s, and are meant to stand by children’s side at all times and robustly challenge abuses of their rights
- Children who were seen to be self-harming were watched by custody officers even when they were in the shower. They were locked in bare cells, stripped of all possessions and made to wear ‘anti-suicide clothing’ – penal regimes that have been criticised for decades
- Between February and October 2015, 14 child protection referrals were made to Medway Council. Not one of these was found to be substantiated. Children who reported abuse were sent letters by the Council, which dismissed their concerns citing insufficient CCTV evidence. For example, one child was told: “on seeing the CCTV we could not see much due to where the cameras were situated and therefore could not evidence what you said happened”. Another child was informed: “we have therefore concluded that the allegation of you being hurt by a member of staff is unsubstantiated, which means that we do not have any proof to evidence that the staff member had hurt you and we cannot tell either way what really happened”. The report underlines the silencing effect of such an approach, which does not reflect child protection practice in community settings
- One child protection incident apparently involved seven members of Medway staff, yet the Independent Improvement Board could find “no paperwork”
- Standard punishments included not allowing children to eat in the dining room, leaving them to eat meals alone in their locked cells
- One of the responses of G4S to the BBC Panorama programme was to lobby the YJB for changes to restraint rules. This is exactly what the company did in 2006, in response to the restraint death of 15 year-old Gareth Myatt, who was held down in a seated position by three G4S officers who ignored his cries he couldn’t breathe. The YJB supported the multinational, the restraint rules were changed in 2007, and then they were quashed by the Court of Appeal in 2008 – because the changes risked children suffering serious human rights violations.
Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, had a one-to-one meeting with a member of the Improvement Board in February. She says:
“This report dignifies what children, families, the courts and campaigners have been saying for years. Medway secure training centre is unsafe and damaging, and other institutions with the same penal culture are similarly injurious to children. The Government’s interim response, to appoint a prison governor to run the centre, falls well short of the wisdom, knowledge and child-centredness shown by the Improvement Board. Medway must be closed; a serious case review established so that agencies can work out why they failed children; and coercive and controlling institutions rejected by all political parties from this point forward. This could be the watershed moment we have all been dreaming of.”
It’s been 122 days since the BBC Panorama’s exposé of physical and emotional abuse in G4S-run Medway secure training centre. The programme, ‘Teenage prison. Abuse exposed’ was broadcast on 11 January 2016. That same day, inspectors from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons and Ofsted visited the child prison, interviewed 20 children, and their advice to the Justice Secretary was published on 26 January. The inspectorates advised the Government to immediately impose independent oversight of the centre, make officers wear body cameras and to establish “an enquiry into the failings at Medway and the implications of this for the wider youth justice system”. The Justice Secretary announced the Medway Independent Improvement Board that same day and, nearly six weeks since it submitted its report to the Minister, its findings and recommendations, and the Government’s response, have been published.