Category: Child protection

SERIOUS SAFETY WARNINGS – CHILD PRISONS

Article 39 has obtained data from local authorities showing there were more than 550 allegations of abuse and neglect in England’s seven child prisons over the past three years. 

Whenever there is reasonable suspicion that a child is suffering significant harm, councils are required under the Children Act 1989 to investigate to see whether they need to take action to safeguard or promote their welfare. A successful legal challenge brought by the Howard League for Penal Reform in 2002 confirmed that this duty applies to child prisons.

Only half of the six councils with child prisons in their area provided information showing how many abuse and neglect allegations referred to them were substantiated. This adds further weight to the findings of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, which published its investigation into custodial institutions earlier this year. The inquiry found 1,070 alleged incidents of child sexual abuse between 2009 and 2017 but concluded that the lack of data and auditing by central and local government  “obscures the true picture”. 

Carolyne Willow, Article 39’s Director, said:

“That only three of the six local authorities gave us sufficient data to establish levels of confirmed abuse or neglect makes us fearful that councils are still not taking their child protection obligations seriously for this group of very vulnerable children. At the very least, local authorities should be required by central government to regularly publish this kind of  information.”

The information handed to Article 39 by three of the councils showed that 66 (43%) of 155 abuse or neglect allegations were deemed to be substantiated, which is where local authorities have sufficient evidence to prove what was alleged.

  • Oakhill secure training centre, run by G4S in Milton Keynes, had the highest number of abuse and neglect findings.
  • Of 98 allegations, over half (52) were found to be substantiated.
  • Milton Keynes Council told Article 39 that 27 members of staff were the subject of police investigations between 2016 and 2019.

A separate freedom of information request to the Ministry of Justice revealed there were 359 prison restraint incidents in the past two years which resulted in children suffering serious injuries or compromised breathing. This means serious restraint incidents more than tripled between 2013/14 and 2018 (from 54 to 193).

  • A Ministry of Justice (MoJ) report for the calendar year of 2018 shows that Oakhill secure training centre accounted for nearly a quarter of the child safety warnings – with 45 of the 193 incidents occurring there.
  • The document we obtained from the MoJ does not signal in which prisons children suffered the different types of warning signs.
  • However, it states that last year 124 children complained of being unable to breathe during or after restraint, 28 suffered breathing difficulties, 22 felt sick and 11 experienced lost or reduced consciousness. Seven children were seriously injured. In 14 incidents, a child abruptly or unexpectedly stopped struggling while under restraint.

Willow added:

“Child abuse is wrong wherever it occurs and these latest revelations show yet again that prisons are desperately unsafe places for children. Nearly three years ago, Ministers agreed that children should be moved out of prisons, yet not a single institution has been closed. If families or children’s homes were subjecting children to this level of risk, they would have child protection social workers knocking at their doors. Every child, no matter where they live, has the right to feel and be safe. If you cannot provide this basic level of security, then there is simply no chance of turning around a child’s life.”

In 2004, a 15 year-old child, Gareth Myatt, died following restraint by three G4S custody officers in Rainsbrook secure training centre, in Northamptonshire. He told them he couldn’t breathe and he vomited and defecated before losing consciousness. The officers later said they thought Gareth was lying when he complained of being unable to breathe. During restraint training, officers had been given a codeword (OXO) to shout if they were struggling to breathe or in pain, which would immediately stop the use of force.

Adam Rickwood photograph

Another child, 14 year-old Adam Rickwood, also died following restraint in 2004. Four officers unlawfully restrained him in the then Serco-run Hassockfield secure training centre, in Durham. He was inflicted with a sharp blow to the nose, which was then an approved restraint technique. His nose bled for an hour and the prison refused his requests to go to hospital. Adam hanged himself hours later, leaving behind a note saying he had asked officers what gave them the right to hit a child in the nose, and they called it restraint.

After the boys’ deaths, the then Labour government introduced a new programme of restraint in child prisons, called Minimising and Managing Physical Restraint (MMPR). The expert panel set up to review the techniques ahead of the rollout warned that the ‘head hold’ carried significant risks and gave its approval only on condition a research project would be established to find an alternative. Eight years later, the report obtained by Article 39 shows MoJ officials are concerned about its misapplication and the frequency of children saying they cannot breathe when in the head hold. A further review of the technique has therefore been set up, though there has been no public announcement of this.

These latest findings come as Article 39 awaits the outcome of a review of pain-inducing restraint in child prisons. In January 2019, the High Court stayed an application for judicial review pending this investigation and an inquiry by parliament’s human rights committee. The committee, chaired by Harriet Harman MP, reported in April 2019 and urged the withdrawal of all pain-inducing techniques in child prisons and during transit to and from custodial institutions. At least 25 other bodies have called for prohibition, including the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the UN Committee Against Torture, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the UK’s four Children’s Commissioners. Taylor’s report was due to be published in October 2019.

Notes

  1. The three councils which provided full figures on the outcomes of investigations were: Leeds City Council (Wetherby juvenile young offender institution), Milton Keynes Council (Oakhill secure training centre) and Staffordshire Council (Werrington juvenile young offender institution). 
  2. The three councils which did not release full figures on the outcomes of investigations were: the London Borough of Hounslow (Feltham juvenile young offender institution), Medway Council (Medway secure training centre and Cookham Wood juvenile young offender institution) and Northamptonshire Council (Rainsbrook secure training centre).
  3. The total number of abuse or neglect allegations referred to the local authorities was 557. The breakdown of this is:
    – Leeds City Council: 47 allegations between 2016/17 and 2018/19
    – London Borough of Hounslow: 199 allegations between 2016/17 and 2018/19
    – Medway Council: stated it would have to review 69 individual case files, so we have taken this figure to mean at least 69 allegations
    – Milton Keynes Council: 98 allegations between 2016/17 and 2018/19
    – Northamptonshire Council: 134 allegations between 2017 and 2019 (we were told that 49 of these specifically concerned restraint)
    – Staffordshire Council: 10 allegations between 2016/17 and 2018/19
  4. Article 39 previously requested the same data in 2015, similarly for the preceding three-year period. Responses were as follows:
    – Leeds City Council: didn’t have data to hand; said it would take more than 18 hours to retrieve
    – London Borough of Hounslow: 82 allegations between 2012/13 and 2014/15
    – Medway Council: didn’t have data to hand; said it would take more than 18 hours to retrieve
    – Milton Keynes Council: 86 allegations between 2012/13 and 2014/15
    – Northamptonshire Council: only had data for period Sept 2014 to 31/03/15 (25 allegations)
    – Staffordshire Council: did not respond to the 2015 information request
  5. As of July 2018, G4S had not provided the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse with the documents requested about sexual abuse in Medway secure training centre and Rainsbroook secure training centre because “records are in storage”. (Counsel’s update here).

The Independent newspaper reported our FOI findings on 11 January 2020, exactly four years since a BBC Panorama programme showed serious physical and emotional abuse in Medway secure training centre, which was then run by G4S. Read the Independent piece here.

Challenging secrecy in child prisons

Article 39 has today (6 December 2019) submitted a request for a freedom of information (FOI) internal review to the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO), which has refused to release details of very serious child abuse in an unnamed child prison.

Our probing follows the publication of the PPO’s annual report in October. It contained a summary of a very serious complaint made by a child – see below. The PPO investigation concluded the boy had been subject to excessive force, but the prison rejected this finding.

Taken from PPO annual report, published October 2019

Article 39 contends that the excessive force described here meets official definitions of physical and emotional abuse.

Article 39’s freedom of information request

We submitted an FOI request in October 2019 for the following:

1.       The name of the young offender institution in which this restraint incident took place.

2.       With any necessary redactions, a) a copy of the complaints investigation report pertaining to ‘Mr K’ and b) correspondence and documents showing the response of the young offender institution and the Youth Custody Service to your findings and recommendations.

3.       Indication as to whether the boy made the complaint to the PPO after he had left, or been moved from, the YOI in which the incident took place.

Our request for an internal review – as submitted to PPO today

There is a legitimate interest in disclosure of the above information (with necessary redactions) because it concerns the protection of vulnerable children in closed institutions. The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman’s finding that excessive force had been used on the boy was rejected by the young offender institution. This could indicate inadequate safeguarding awareness and arrangements within the institution, which may put other children at risk of significant harm (see especially the governor’s safeguarding duties under s11 of the Children Act 2004). 

Excessive force of the kind described in your case study fits the definitions of physical and emotional abuse in the statutory guidance Working Together to Safeguard Children (attached, pages 102-103). It may also have been a criminal offence.  

We draw your attention to the investigation by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, which reported in February this year. It concluded: “Children are particularly vulnerable when placed in a closed institution where access to the outside world is necessarily restricted and those in authority are distrusted by the children themselves. It is all the more difficult to escape an abuser when there is nowhere to hide” (page 98 of attached report). 

As a registered charity promoting and protecting the rights of children in institutional settings, we have a legitimate interest in seeking information about the location of this disputed serious child abuse, the reasons the institution rejected your finding and what happened as a consequence (including any action by the Youth Custody Service). 

The Youth Custody Service’s own internal safeguarding review (published October 2019) included among its 100+ recommendations actions relating to complaints, including a proposal for a centralised register of recommendations by PPO and others, and improvements made as a consequence (report attached). Our FOI request reflects this call for transparency for the purposes of child safeguarding. The Youth Custody Service report states: “Evidence suggests that perceptions of procedural injustice can act as a driver for violence in custody, and conversely, perceived procedural justice can act as a driver for safety” (page 49). This speaks directly to our concern that the prison was able to reject your organisation’s finding: we want to understand why it was able to do so, the consequences for the child, and what, if any, wider safeguarding improvements arose from your investigation. 

Our third question is of legitimate interest because there is longstanding evidence of children being unable to complain about abuse in institutional settings while still living within the establishment where the abuse is taking place. The Government is currently preparing statutory guidance on Keeping Children Safe in Custody (following a recommendation of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse) and we are very keen to ensure that what happened to this boy, and the circumstances of him being able to make the complaint to your organisation, form part of the learning contributing to this statutory guidance.

As we indicated in the original request, we fully appreciate the need for redactions to protect the privacy of the boy and other affected individuals. However, we contend that there is a legitimate interest in the publication of the name of the prison in which you found this child had been subject to excessive force, and related information.

Documents referenced in our internal review request:

Working Together to Safeguard Children

IICSA’s investigation into sexual abuse in custodial institutions

Youth Custody Service’s Safeguarding Review

Government publishes 70 targets to bring Feltham child prison to an acceptable level

The Ministry of Justice has today (21 August) published an action plan in response to the grave concerns about children’s safety and care raised by the Chief Inspector of Prisons last month.

On 22 July, Peter Clarke, the Chief Inspector, invoked the Urgent Notification procedure whereby significant concerns about the treatment and conditions within prisons are communicated directly to the Secretary of State for Justice within seven days of an inspection.

The announced inspection of Feltham child prison took place between 4 and 19 July. The Secretary of State for Justice, Robert Buckland, has today released an action plan with 70 dated targets. Deadlines for the targets range from ‘immediate’ to ‘June 2020’.

Among the grave concerns reported by the Chief inspector to the Secretary of State were:

  • 40% of children had felt unsafe at Feltham. Nearly half reported victimisation by other children; and around two-thirds said staff had victimised them.
  • Violence is higher than in any other child prison – including verbal and physical abuse by staff.
  • Self-harm among children was 14 times higher than in 2017, and this was largely attributed to them being locked in cells for long periods of time.
  • Only a quarter of children said their (emergency) cell bell was answered within 5 minutes.
  • Over 900 use of force reports were missing: these are written accounts of restraint used on children, including the use of pain-inducing techniques.
  • Children’s perspectives were not routinely gathered after the use of restraint, so it was impossible for managers to know whether there were any child protection concerns and/or force was used lawfully.
  • The longest period a child had been separated from the ordinary prison regime was 89 days. Inspectors found the treatment and conditions of children in these situations was “very poor”. Many ‘separated’ children spent fewer than two hours out of their cells in each 24-hour period.
  • Windows did not allow adequate ventilation and less than a quarter of children were able to have a shower every day.

After the Urgent Notification was invoked, the Ministry of Justice stopped sending children to Feltham. Today’s letter from the Secretary of State to the Chief Inspector states this arrangement will continue until senior managers consider the prison to be suitable for children.

Carolyne Willow, Article 39’s Director, said:

“The Chief Inspector’s letter last month set out a desperate, intolerable panoply of failures to meet basic levels of care and protection. Many of the 70 actions published by the Ministry of Justice today are rudimentary building blocks for any children’s residential setting, including the appointment of a head of safeguarding, staff training and adequate shower facilities.

“But the biggest problem is: we have been here before. And before that. Feltham has a very long and sad history of severe child suffering. Ministers should have taken the Chief Inspector’s letter as the final confirmation that the institution cannot be saved. Today’s announcement should have been bold and principled, signalling the closure of Feltham and investment in approaches and services known to turn around young lives. This document with its 70 targets is about rescuing a prison which started its life in the 1800s; if it was truly about children, it would be a closure plan.”

Read the 22 July 2019 Urgent Notification here.
Read the Secretary of State’s letter in response here.
Read HM Prison and Probation Service’s action plan here.
More information about the Urgent Notification process is here.

Another child dies in prison

The BBC has reported that a 16 year-old boy, Caden Steward, died in Cookham Wood young offender institution in Kent on Thursday 27 June. His death is not believed to have been self-inflicted, and is said not to be suspicious.

This is the third child to die in Cookham Wood YOI since 2012. An investigation by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman will take place.

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, said:

“This is desperately sad news. No child should ever come to the end of their life in prison. The prison service has apparently said the boy’s death is not suspicious. But we should all question and distrust the morality of keeping very vulnerable children in these unsafe and archaic institutions.”

Two days before the boy’s death, a debate was held in Parliament on closing child prisons, led by Labour MP Emma Lewell-Buck. The Minister, Edward Argar, refused to give a timetable for the closure of child prisons, even though the Government agreed two and a half years ago that they would be phased out. In 2016, the Youth Justice Board admitted that young offender institutions and secure training centres are not fit for the purpose of keeping children safe or rehabilitation.

35 children have died in young offender institutions and secure training centres since 1990, the year the UK signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The treaty requires that children are only ever detained as a last resort and for the shortest period possible.

Article 39 is running a national ‘End Child Imprisonment’ campaign with the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, the Howard League for Penal Reform, INQUEST, Just for Kids Law, National Association for Youth Justice and the Standing Committee for Youth Justice. Read more about the campaign here.

United call for the immediate closure of harmful child prisons and proposals for positive care

Child prisons are failing institutions causing devastating harm to vulnerable children and should be closed immediately. A coalition of organisations and independent experts is today (18 April) launching a completely different approach with the publication of a set of principles and minimum expectations for reducing the number of children locked up and making sure secure care is effective and safe.

The document provides a positive framework for addressing harmful behaviour and meeting children’s needs outside of prison. This requires skilled, multi-disciplinary teams working in small establishments close to children’s communities. Wherever possible, children should attend education and other facilities in their local area even when they are being looked after in a secure setting. Families and professionals who know children well should be fully involved in their care.

Drawing upon the best available national and international evidence, the document shows how to properly look after children while stopping their harmful behaviour. It comes two months after the country’s largest public inquiry found appalling mistreatment in child prisons.

Only children who present a serious risk to themselves or others should ever be deprived of their liberty, the coalition says. Deprivation of liberty should be for the shortest period of time, and punishment and deterrence must play no part in decision-making. The principles and minimum expectations also apply to children who may arrive in a secure setting through mental health or child welfare routes.

Carolyne Willow, Article 39 Director, said:

“The Government announced more than two years ago that it would phase out child prisons. Since then children have continued to suffer terribly in institutions which are incapable of meeting their needs and cyclically produce regimes of abuse, neglect and pervasive violence. It’s time for Ministers and opposition parties to treat this as an urgent matter of child protection and to commit to moving on from a penal system built in the Victorian age as an alternative to capital punishment and banishment to the colonies. No other area of policy concerned with children is so wedded to the distant past.”

Richard Garside, Director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, said:

“Imprisonment of children is unethical, harmful and perpetuates a system that punishes some of the most vulnerable in our society.

“We need to work towards ending child imprisonment. Given that imprisonment is an ongoing lived reality for many hundreds of children, it is also vital that the government takes steps, in the here-and-now, to reduce the harms of imprisonment and ensure that imprisoned children are treated with compassion, dignity and respect.”

Frances Crook, Chief Executive, Howard League for Penal Reform, said:

“It is a stain on the very fabric of the nation that we send children into prisons. Prisons damage already damaged children. It is time to put children first and make sure that every single child is nurtured and supported to grow into a law-abiding citizen.”

Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST, said:

“The deaths of children in prison are not a distant memory, but an unacceptable and recent reality. Deaths are the starkest demonstration of the damage caused by child imprisonment, and the culture of violence, use of force, self-harm, fear and neglect. Children need and deserve to be supported and nurtured. Child prisons must close. The focus of any government with children’s interests in mind must be investment in and expansion of community support services, not detention and criminal justice systems.”

Enver Solomon, CEO of Just for Kids Law, said:

“Child prisons are costly, failing institutions that are violent, unsafe and ineffective – sweeping vulnerable children and young people into a world of further crime from which it is impossible to escape.  We need to think again and create alternatives that guide children to safer more stable shores and improve public safety for us all.”

Ross Little, Chair of the National Association for Youth Justice, said:

“Prisons for children have been shown to be expensive ways of making vulnerability, disadvantage and harmful behaviour worse. It really is time for government to change its approach to how we deal with complex issues for some of the most challenged and challenging children in our society. We can do better than this.”

Pippa Goodfellow, Director of the Standing Committee for Youth Justice, said:

“This week is the anniversary of the horrific death of 15-year-old Gareth Myatt at Rainsbrook secure training centre. As we mark the loss of his young life fifteen years later, this should serve as a pressing reminder of the need to protect the hundreds of children locked up in child prisons today. In 2017 the Chief Inspector of Prisons warned that the state of youth custody was in crisis and so dangerous that tragedy was “inevitable”. Now is the time to take the necessary and urgent action to close these harmful and failing institutions.” 

Maggie Atkinson, Children’s Commissioner for England between 2010 and 2015, said:

“The incarceration of children and young people is at best unproductive and at worst qualifies as cruel and inhumane treatment. It often scars the children and young people involved still more deeply than whatever has happened to them that made them offend. 

“A modern society should seek to change the lives of children in conflict with the law robustly and with care. We have to reach a place where there is no need to lock them away, especially given our tendency to release them both unrehabilitated and more likely to reoffend. Finding the political and social will to do what’s right for children and wider society is an urgent necessity.”

Professor Barry Goldson, University of Liverpool and member of the United Nations Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty Expert Advisory Board, said:

“The international evidence base is compelling. Child imprisonment is typically: dangerous and damaging for young prisoners; spectacularly ineffective in terms of obtaining crime reduction and community safety; often unnecessary; wasteful of public money and utterly inadequate. There is an urgent and pressing need to seek replacement strategies that meet children’s needs and serve the public interest to positive effect.”

Notes

1.    ‘Principles and minimum expectation for children deprived of their liberty’ is published by the End Child Imprisonment campaign steering group. It can be downloaded here.

2.    The End Child Imprisonment campaign was launched in November 2018. It is run by a campaign steering group of Article 39, Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, Howard League for Penal Reform, INQUEST, Just for Kids Law, the National Association for Youth Justice and the Standing Committee for Youth Justice, as well as leading experts in children’s rights, the care of children and juvenile justice, including former Children’s Commissioner for England Maggie Atkinson; Dr Tim Bateman, University of Bedfordshire; Professor Barry Goldson, University of Liverpool and member of the United Nations Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty Expert Advisory Board; Dr Di Hart, Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellow (children’s secure care); Pam Hibbert OBE, youth justice specialist and a former manager of a secure children’s home; and Dr David Scott, Open University.  

3.    In February 2019, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse published its investigation into children’s custodial institutions. It found there had been 1,070 sexual abuse allegations between 2009 and 2017. This included 36 allegations of rape or attempted rape in young offender institutions and secure training centres over that period. Physical violence and children feeling unsafe in custody were commonplace, and appeared to be rising.

4.    Individuals and organisations can support the End Child Imprisonment campaign here.

5.    Fifteen years ago, Gareth Myatt, aged 15 and weighing just 6½ stone and less than five feet tall, was fatally restrained in Rainsbrook secure training centre. 34 children have died in young offender institutions and secure training centres since 1990, the year the UK signed up to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and pledged to use custody as a last resort and for the shortest period possible. The most recent child deaths in prison were Daniel Adewole (aged 16) and Alex Kelly (aged 15). Daniel was found unresponsive in his cell in Cookham Wood young offender institution following an epileptic fit in 2015. The prison had cancelled his paediatric neurology hospital appointment a few weeks before, because he and his parents knew the date – which was said to breach prison security rules. Alex Kelly was found hanging in his cell in Cookham Wood in 2012; he had been in care since the age of five and was known to be extremely vulnerable. The night Alex was found hanging he had told a prison officer about the sexual abuse he suffered as a very young child.

6.    In December 2016, Charlie Taylor’s review of the youth justice system in England and Wales was published. The Government’s response, published at the same time, said in respect of child prisons: “The Taylor Review proposes that YOIs and STCs should be replaced in the longer term by smaller secure schools situated in the regions that they serve. These should be set up, run, governed and inspected as schools, drawing on the expertise and experience of outstanding alternative provision schools (which provide education for children and young people who are unable to go to mainstream schools) and have greater freedoms for their head teachers to recruit staff and commission services… We agree with this vision…”. Charlie Taylor became Chair of the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales in March 2017.