Children still unsafe in Medway secure training centre

An inspection report published today reveals that children remain unsafe in Medway secure training centre, 17 months after BBC Panorama broadcast harrowing footage of serious physical and emotional abuse.

Inspectors visited Medway secure training centre in March. Twenty-nine children were detained there at the time (the Youth Justice Board pays for 67 places).

The prison was taken from G4S management in July 2016, following the Panorama abuse revelations. For the second time in a year, Ofsted judged safety in the prison to be inadequate, and assessed the institution to be inadequate overall. It reports:

  • Since the last inspection (June 2016), there were five separate occasions when a child had complained of being unable to breathe during physical restraint. Inspectors report that investigations into these incidents, undertaken by a national team within Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, frequently found “poor practice of staff and managers at Medway in particular poor incident management”.
  • At the time of the inspection, 16 children were subject to a “restricted regime”, where they could not leave their cells for education, join others eating in the dining room and they were allowed only 15 minutes in the open air a day.
  • The policy governing staff observing children in their cells, because they are at risk of self-harm and suicide for example – “through glass blocks built into the walls” – was flouted in various ways, including by managers not overseeing its use. On the last day of the inspection, a directive was circulated to staff stating this surveillance of children was no longer permitted.
  • Inspectors found “significant weaknesses in the governance of use of force, predominantly caused by a shortage of minimising and managing physical restraint (MMPR) coordinators”. Body-worn cameras were still not switched on during use of restraint, and footage is “rarely available” at internal meetings held to review the use of force on children.
  • Debriefs with children “are not always carried out” – a child protection measure instituted after inquests into the 2004 restraint-related deaths of 14 year-old Adam Rickwood and 15 year-old Gareth Myatt.
  • One quarter (24%) of children surveyed said they had felt unsafe in the prison.
  • Following the Panorama programme in January 2016, it was agreed that all concerns should be reported to the local authority’s designated officer, which is consistent with statutory requirements. However, Ofsted reports this “has left a legacy of arrangements that are not satisfactory or compliant with statutory guidance. Clear processes and procedures have not been re-established between the centre, the local authority and public protection police specialists about safeguarding referrals and management of ongoing processes. This has led to delays in concerns being investigated and forensic and other evidence not being captured or reviewed promptly”.
  • 98 complaints from children were recorded by the prison, though inspectors question whether this is an accurate figure. They also highlight that some children were given feedback on the outcome of their complaint even before the matters were fully investigated. Others received no feedback at all.
  • Only 4% of the children surveyed (n=24) said they would turn to an advocate if they had a problem. This was the lowest recorded on the list. ‘Family’ gained the highest response, with 54% of children saying they would turn to them if they had a problem.
  • 18% of children said they had wanted to make a complaint but didn’t because they were worried about what might happen to them.
  • 68% of children had a visit from family, carers or friends at least once a week. This means more than a third of children did not have weekly visits.
  • A flat available for families to stay in overnight, having travelled long distances to visit their child, had been used just once since the last inspection.
  • Children have telephones in their bedrooms (unless their are safety concerns). During “approved times”, they are allowed one free call a day (the report does not state the duration of these) and incoming calls of unlimited duration. Ofsted report: “A number of relatives spoken to were very positive about this and said it helps to reassure them that their child is OK”.

Article 39’s Director Carolyne Willow said:

“Ministers must call time on the false optimism that this prison, and safeguarding mechanisms around it, can be made safe for children.

“Inspectors have rated the institution inadequate twice in a year and the local authority’s response to safeguarding concerns continues to be deficient, with inspectors reporting a failure to follow statutory guidance. One quarter of children surveyed said they had felt unsafe there. This is intolerable from a child protection perspective and the prison must close.”