Category: Youth Justice Board

Deaths in child prisons

As the government prepares its plans for secure schools, it must surely be considering the tremendous harm caused to children by imprisonment across the decades.

One such indicator is the number of children who have died in prisons. Data recently released by the Ministry of Justice shows 52 children died in young offender institutions (and their previous incarnations) between 1978 and 2015.

In addition, two children died in 2004 in the newest type of child prison, the secure training centre. The first secure training centre was Medway, in Kent, which opened in April 1998 and is run by G4S. Five weeks ago, a BBC Panorama programme showed serious mental and physical abuse of children there, captured by undercover recording.

So that’s 54 children who have lost their lives in British prisons in the past 40 years. The Youth Justice Board’s analysis of 16 of these deaths, occurring between 2000 and 2012, found at least 69% of the children had been subject to Care Orders. This is the highest form of protection the state offers to children.

Furthermore, an analysis of the 38 deaths of young adults (aged 18-21) in custody between 2008 and 2012 found 37% had previously been incarcerated as children.

Organisations invited to tender for secure training centres

The government has revealed the five companies which were invited to tender for the contracts to run Medway and Rainsbrook secure training centres. These are prisons for children aged 12 to 17 (sometimes 18 year-olds are placed there too). The five-year contracts were worth £236 million in total. In September 2015, the Youth Justice Board announced that G4S would continue to run Medway, and MTCnovo would be handed the contract for Rainsbrook.

In an answer to a parliamentary question from Lord Beecham, the Ministry of Justice listed the five companies which had been invited to tender:

  • G4S Care and Justice Services (UK) Limited (now trading as Inspiring Futures);
  • MTCnovo Limited;
  • Sodexo Justice Services;
  • Diagrama Foundation; and
  • Ingeus UK Limited

Yet more reductions in secure children’s homes

The Youth Justice Board has announced today that it plans to reduce by 15% the number of places it funds in secure children’s homes, from 138 to 117 places.

This is a 47% reduction since 2009, when the Youth Justice Board contracted 220 places.

In September 2015, 70% of detained children were held in young offender institutions; 20% were held in secure training centres run by G4S; and just 11% were in secure children’s homes.

Secure children’s homes are governed by the same legislation as ordinary children’s homes. They have much higher staff to child ratios than young offender institutions, which are run by the prison service and by G4S (which operates Parc in Wales). The law requires that managers of secure children’s homes have appropriate experience, qualifications and skills, and they must ensure their staff group can “meet the needs of each child”. No such legal duties apply to young offender institutions and secure training centres. Moreover, the law sets out robust standards that must be followed by each home, and children are given greater protection from the routine use of physical restraint (it is not permitted because a child fails to follow orders, for example, as is the case in young offender institutions). The infliction of severe pain as a form of restraint is prohibited in secure children’s homes.

One secure children’s home is run by a charity; the remainder are run by local authorities.

This announcement comes a fortnight after the chief inspector of prisons found “deeply disturbing” use of restraint in child prisons and “little cultural change” since a new system of restraint was introduced in 2013 following the deaths of two boys, Gareth Myatt and Adam Rickwood, in 2004 in secure training centres.

In October, the Office of Children’s Commissioner for England urged  “the decommissioning of young offender institutions and their replacement with smaller establishments with higher staff to child ratios based closer to the child’s family and community”.

Just last week, the Chief Executive of the Youth Justice Board, Lin Hinnigan, was reported to have told a conference of youth justice workers that they should be able to provide interventions which are “personalised and responsive to each [child’s] developmental, health and wellbeing needs” in children’s neighbourhoods and communities “rather than part of a prison service”.

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, responds:

“This further disinvestment in secure children’s homes props up a dangerous and discredited prison system. Young offender institutions are much cheaper to run than secure children’s homes, because they are places of punishment where children languish in locked cells with only an hour a day in the fresh air at best. When a child’s behaviour and circumstances have got to such a point that he or she cannot, for the time being, live freely within the community, we should not be surprised that specialised care comes with a high price tag.”

Charities seek reassurances about MTCnovo

In a letter to Lord McNally, the Chair of the Youth Justice Board, Article 39, the Howard League for Penal Reform and INQUEST say we are “deeply troubled” that MTCnovo, the company taking over the management of Rainsbrook secure training centre, appears to have no experience of looking after vulnerable children in a residential setting. Information we have been able to collate about MTC’s management of adult prisons in the United States is “disturbing”.

We seek the following reasurances:

  • During the contracting process, was the Youth Justice Board made aware of the judicial and civil society concerns in the US we outline in respect of adult prisons managed by MTC?
  • What professional qualifications will MTCnovo managers and staff be required to have?
  • What ratio of staff to children will be followed during weekday and weekend shifts?
  • Will there be any change to the numbers of children held in Rainsbrook?
  • We understand the YJB monitor has been maintaining closer scrutiny of Rainsbrook since February’s inspection; will this continue during and after the transition to MTCnovo management?
  • Will MTCnovo be required contractually to notify all restraint injuries, every use of strip-searching and all child protection allegations to the local authority, consistent with the guidance issued last year by the Association of Independent Chairs of Local Safeguarding Children Boards and the NSPCC?
  • Will the company permit access to Rainsbrook by interested groups such as ourselves and welcome external scrutiny?
  • Will it respond to Freedom of Information requests, since its work with children will be completely funded by the taxpayer?
  • Finally, has provision been made in the five-year contract for early termination should it be found that children have not been properly cared for, and protected, at Rainsbrook?

Letter to Lord McNally


Restraint research published

The Youth Justice Board has published research it commissioned in 2013 on the use of head-holds in child prisons. Twenty-two adults studying at Coventry University, aged between 18 and 24, volunteered to have their heart and lung function tested in a laboratory whilst they were subject to 12 different head-holds. The psychological impact on the students was also recorded.

The researchers recommend that children be held in as upright position as possible, since head-holds at a 70 degree angle were found to be more uncomfortable than a 30 degree angle. They also warn about the risks of children’s mouths being “held closed” during this type of restraint, and say the dangers should be emphasised in training.

In April 2004, 15 year-old Gareth Myatt died whilst being subject to the ‘seated double embrace’ form of restraint then authorised for use on children in secure training centres and immigration detention. A mixed race child, Gareth had been looked after by his local authority on five separate occasions and was very vulnerable. He weighed around 41kg and was just 1.5 metres tall. The three G4S officers holding him down at Rainsbrook secure training centre ignored his cries that he couldn’t breathe.