Private companies and child prisons

Ministers have ducked a question about the risks to children of private companies running child prisons. A question was asked in Parliament by Lord Ramsbotham, following the serious abuse of children in G4S-run Medway secure training centre, which only came to the public’s attention through undercover filming by BBC Panorama.

Lord Ramsbotham asked:

“To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have undertaken an analysis of the risks and benefits of profit-making companies managing custodial institutions in the light of the serious allegations against some members of the G4S staff at Medway Secure Training Centre and the subsequent transfer of that centre to government control.”

Conservative Life Peer, Lord Keen, answered for the Government in his capacity as Ministry of Justice spokesperson:

“The allegations at Medway STC are shocking and completely unacceptable. Decisive action has already been taken, which includes the appointment of a new centre manager and senior management team. G4S have been removed from the running of Medway and since 1 July the centre has been under new leadership.

“The safety and rehabilitation of young offenders is extremely important. We will be responding to the Charlie Taylor review with our plans for reform shortly.

“Well-run prisons are fundamental to the proper functioning of our justice system, and a vital part of our reform plans.

“Private providers play an important role in the prison estate. Performance of all providers is closely monitored and we will not hesitate to take action where standards fall short. Our providers are contractually required to cooperate with performance monitoring and audit by the Ministry.”

Carolyne Willow, Article 39’s Director, says:

“Secure training centres were an experiment in large multinationals running prisons for children as young as 12. After systemic abuse was exposed in the G4S-run Medway secure training centre, it was perfectly reasonable for Lord Ramsbotham, a former chief inspector of prisons, to ask Ministers if they have analysed the costs and benefits of profit-making companies running child prisons. The question remains unanswered, so we must assume that no such investigation has taken place. Without an examination of how the pursuit of profit may have contributed, directly or indirectly, to child abuse in Medway secure training centre, there can be no assurance that children will be better protected in the future.”

G4S continues to run Oakhill secure training centre in Milton Keynes. The third centre, Rainsbrook, was taken from G4S’s management and handed to MTCnovo earlier this year. This followed very critical inspection reports. In November 2015, Article 39 wrote with the Howard League for Penal Reform and INQUEST to the Youth Justice Board with a dossier of concerns about the US-based company MTC.

G4S runs one of the five juvenile young offender institutions in England and Wales; the other four are run by the state. Children aged 15-17 are detained in young offender institutions.

Secure children’s homes presently detain the youngest and most vulnerable children, though many organisations, including Article 39, believe these should be used for all children who cannot be safely cared for in the community. This week, the Children’s Commissioner for England said she, supports the use of secure children’s homes where custody is absolutely necessary as these have a more caring ethos”. In July, Sir Martin Narey recommended that private providers be encouraged to “enter the secure care market”. All except one secure children’s home are run by local authorities, as part of their children’s services; the other is managed by a charity.

Lord Ramsbotham’s question (and the Ministry of Justice’s answer) can be viewed here.