Category: Medway STC

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.”

Serious case review into former G4S child prison

The BBC has reported that a serious case review has been launched into the abuse of child prisoners in G4S child prison, Medway secure training centre.

In January 2016, BBC Panorama broadcast disturbing footage of children being physically and emotionally abused by officers. The then Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, established the Medway Improvement Board, which made a series of recommendations for improving the care and protection of children. The prison was transferred from G4S to the prison service in July 2016.

At the end of February 2016, G4S announced it would be selling its children’s business. This has not yet happened. It continues to run another child prison, Oakhill secure training centre, and several children’s homes. It also runs a prison unit for children attached to an adult prison in Wales. Last week, the Guardian newspaper reported that the Home Office plans to hand the contract for safeguarding children’s welfare in immigration detention to G4S. The children’s charity Barnardo’s formerly held this contract.

Article 39 has consistently pressed for a serious case review into the systemic abuse of children in Medway secure training centre. We provided evidence to the Chair of the Local Safeguarding Children Board of unsafe and possibly unlawful restraint.

This will be the first ever serious case review examining the institutional abuse of children in prison; others were established following the restraint-related deaths of Gareth Myatt and Adam Rickwood, though they did not examine claims of wider mistreatment.

In January 2012, the High Court found unlawful restraint had been widespread in the four secure training centres for a decade, possibly longer. At the time, G4S ran three of the centres and Serco ran the fourth.

Medway secure training centre – 10 months on

In January this year, the BBC broadcast undercover filming of the abuse of children at Medway secure training centre. Kent Police subsequently made 11 arrests and eight individuals were later charged.

Medway Safeguarding Children Board has still not announced whether it intends to commission an independent serious case review. Article 39’s Director wrote to the Board’s Chair in June, to share information obtained through FOI requests about injuries and breathing difficulties sustained by children during restraint and to urge an independent review.

Now that the Department for Education’s Serious Case Review Panel’s annual report has been published, and contains no explicit reference to Medway, we have submitted an FOI request to the DfE for a copy of any advice the Panel has issued to the Board.

Medway secure training centre is a prison for children aged 12 to 17. It was the first of four secure training centres to be opened by the former Labour Government: three were run by G4S and one by Serco. At least three-quarters of the children first detained at Medway, when it opened in April 1998, had formerly lived in children’s homes. G4S ran the prison from 1998 to July 2016, when it transferred to government control. Last month, the Guardian reported senior managers at Medway were paid bonuses in April.

The multinational continues to run Oakhill secure training centre in Milton Keynes, Parc prison for boys and young adults in South Wales and several children’s homes. In February it announced it would sell its children’s services business, though this has not yet happened. In May, G4S published its corporate social responsibility annual report which includes a full-page on the child abuse allegations, under the heading “An open approach to addressing human rights issues”.

Earlier this month, a G4S manager’s assault case was dismissed. The prosecution told the court that CCTV footage appeared to show the 24 year-old manager striking a child in the face. Afterwards, the boy seemed “to clutch his face for some time”. The 15 year-old refused to pursue a complaint against the manager, telling a social worker he “probably deserved it”. The defence said the incident was banter and the footage (with no recorded sound) failed to show the manager’s hand connecting with the boy. The Chair of the Magistrates’ Bench concluded, “We feel we cannot properly convict Ms Harold based on the evidence we have seen and therefore there is no case to answer”.

Read our G4S Medway timeline and Secure training centres in numbers (different site).

G4S custody officer charged with assault of a child

Kent Police announced today that a former G4S custody officer has been charged with the common assault of an imprisoned child. The officer worked at Medway secure training centre when it was managed by security firm G4S.

Nine other officers have been bailed pending further investigation. Two more officers were arrested for offences against children but released without charge.

Criminal investigations were launched following BBC Panorama undercover filming of physical and emotional abuse in the centre. Panorama’s programme, ‘Teenage Prison Abuse Exposed’, was broadcast on 11 January. It later transpired that formal complaints about children’s treatment in the prison had been submitted to the Youth Justice Board as long ago as 2003.

Medway secure training centre has been under government control since 1 July 2016.

Medway Safeguarding Children Board has not yet decided whether it will commission a serious case review into the harm suffered by children at the prison. Article 39 wrote to the Chair of the Board, John Drew, last month. We shared information we have obtained about serious injuries and asphyxiation warning signs during the use of physical restraint in Medway (and other child prisons), and urged Drew to launch a serious case review.

MEDWAY SECURE TRAINING CENTRE MUST CLOSE

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.

Government response to the Improvement Board’s Report here.