High levels of violence and use of force at last G4S-run child jail, report finds

Report says inspectors witnessed staff struggling to maintain order at Oakhill secure training centre near Milton Keynes

Levels of violence at the last G4S-run child jail have been “very high” and the number of times staff have used force has doubled in the past year, according to an inspection report.

An Ofsted report into Oakhill secure training centre (STC), near Milton Keynes, says that inspectors witnessed staff “struggling to maintain order and control” and a subsequent “over-reliance on more extreme measures … including a high level of the use of force”.

The inspectors say the decision by the private security company, G4S, to sell its children’s services sector after a BBC Panorama programme about an abuse scandal and cover-up at Medway child jail last year has been a key factor in problems at Oakhill, with an increasing number of staff leaving.

Oakhill is the last of the three G4S-run child jails. Medway STC was taken back into the public sector after the Panorama undercover exposé and a third STC, Rainsbrook in Northamptonshire, was transferred to MTC Novo last year. It is believed that a decision to sell the contract for Oakhill to the Working Links charity is awaiting Ministry of Justice approval.

The joint inspection by Ofsted, the chief inspector of prisons and the Care Quality Commission, says that the achievement of young people at Oakhill, which can take up to 80 children, has improved since their last inspection in late 2015, but the promotion of positive behaviour is inadequate.

They say difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff have been heightened by rising levels of violence. Some newer staff are less resilient or confident in coping with an older group of more challenging young people, with more than half the children aged 16-18, and staffing support from other G4S child jails is no longer possible.

“The number of incidents when staff had used force has doubled since the last inspection. There were more than 70 incidents every month between July and December 2016, despite a reduction in the number of young people in the centre during much of this period. Levels of force used in the two weeks immediately prior to the inspection were particularly high,” says the report.

The inspectors say this is partly because Oakhill does not have an effective or consistent approach to managing young people’s behaviour.

“This has led to a concerning rise in inappropriate behaviour. Inspectors witnessed some staff on some units struggling to maintain order and control. As a consequence, there was an escalation of poor behaviour and an over-reliance on more extreme measures to address this, including a high level of use of force by staff. This was often in response to assaults by young people.”

Responding to the report, Jerry Petherick, the managing director of G4S custodial and detention services, said: “We experienced a number of challenges at Oakhill during early 2016 leading to significant attrition of staff, which previously would have been mitigated by support from other G4S secure training centres. In response, we requested a reduction in the number of children placed at Oakhill to make changes at the centre and to support the management team, appoint a new head of safeguarding, reduce staff attrition and launch a vigorous recruitment campaign.

“While inspectors acknowledge that the director has a purposeful vision to tackle Oakhill’s challenges and there has been change and improvement during the latter half of 2016, there is still a great deal more to do.”

Petherick added that although G4S was committed to the sale of Oakhill, the company remained accountable for the young people in its care and staff would continue to provide support to make improvements.


Alan Travis

The GuardianTramp

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