G4S to continue running child prison despite serious child protection failings

The Justice Secretary Dominic Raab has responded to the urgent notification issued in respect of G4S-run Oakhill secure training centre by Ofsted, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons and the Care Quality Commission last month. His letter to Ofsted’s Chief Inspector describes the serious concerns raised by the inspectorates as “deeply troubling” and says the failures in safeguarding processes and procedures at the child prison are “totally unacceptable”.

Urgent notifications are issued by the inspectorates when conditions within child or adult prisons fall seriously below acceptable standards.

At the end of September, a whistleblower contacted Article 39 with a number of very serious allegations relating to child protection and children’s safety. We then wrote to the local authority responsible for investigating significant harm, copying in the inspectorates and the national Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel. We subsequently wrote to the Justice Secretary calling for a judicial inquiry and assurances over the immediate steps taken to protect children. We also wrote to the G4S director of the prison asking her to pass on letters to children informing them of their right to seek legal help.

It is our understanding that the 4-8 October inspection, after which the urgent notification was issued, was arranged in response to Article 39 notifying the authorities of the whistleblower’s very serious concerns.

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, said:

“Today’s action plan continues the long history of the government giving G4S unlimited chances to fulfil basic child protection obligations. The correspondence does not answer why government monitors, and the Youth Custody Service, did not themselves notice and then deal with chronic and severe failures to keep children safe, including the unlawful use of force and breach of safeguarding rules. It is our understanding that the October inspection only happened after we alerted the local authority and the inspectorates to very serious allegations brought to us by a whistleblower. A safeguarding review by a former Director of Children’s Services will not get to the bottom of G4S’s actions and inactions over many years, which is why we are pushing for a judicial inquiry.

“We know from past experience that the prison service sending in one of their own prison governors to try and rescue a child prison is the first step to closure, though G4S will continue to receive significant public funds for every day and week Oakhill stays open. These penal institutions have the suffering of children built into the walls; they cannot be redeemed.”    

In February 2016, following similar very serious child protection failures in another secure training centre run by G4S, the company announced it would sell its children’s business including the contract for Oakhill secure training centre. Five years later, the company continues to run this child prison and another in Wales. Oakhill secure training centre has not received a satisfactory inspection judgement since March 2016 (following an inspection the previous November).

Measures announced in the action plan include:

  • New director planned to start 20 December; an experienced prison service governor has already been put into the centre to work with G4S
  • Safeguarding team to be increased
  • Children to be allowed out of their cells 13 hours a day (12 hours at weekends)
  • Case workers to listen to and spend time with children in order to understand why they are self-harming (by end December)
  • Youth Custody Service to commission an independent review of safeguarding
  • A manager to supervise all incidents, and recording and oversight safeguards to be strengthened (by end November)
  • Monthly meetings between the Youth Custody Service and the G4S safeguarding team
  • Monthly meetings between the local authority designated officer (responsible for advising G4S on handling allegations against adults who work with children) and G4S
  • A review of Minimising and Managing Physical Restraint (MMPR) policies and practices commissioned jointly by the Youth Custody Service and G4S
  • A blocking device to be installed to prevent children accessing adult content television channels (by end November)
  • Evidence of children being heard to be obtained from youth council minutes and the work of Barnardo’s advocacy service (by end December)
  • Staff supervision to take place monthly (by end December)
  • Staff pay has been increased (by 11%) and a retention payment of £1,500 introduced
  • A deep clean of the accommodation to be completed by mid-December

– The urgent notification (14 October 2021) is here.
– Dominic Raab’s letter (11 November) is here.
– Government initial action plan (published 11 November) is here.
– Inspection reports 2005-2021 can be found here.
– G4S announcement that it would sell its children’s business including the contract for Oakhill secure training centre (February 2016, media release here).
– G4S completed sale of its children’s business Homes2Inspire was announced in February 2017 (media release here). Homes2Inspire is now run by Paul Cook, former managing director of G4S children’s services.