Medway child jail inspectors find further serious failings

Report on former G4S-run centre reveals growing levels of violence and access to pornography among catalogue of problems

Access to pornography and “very high and growing” levels of violence are among the latest “serious and widespread failings” uncovered by official inspectors at the scandal-hit Medway child jail, which had been run by G4S.

An inspection report into Medway secure training centre, published on Monday, reveals that behaviour management has deteriorated significantly in the seven months since undercover filming by BBC Panorama exposed staff assaulting children and revealed that staff had deliberately falsified records.

The inspectors from Ofsted, HM Inspectorate of Prisons and the Care Quality Commission went to Medway in June shortly before the Ministry of Justice’s national offender management service took over the running of the jail from G4S, the private security multinational.

Kent police have arrested 11 people from Medway in connection with allegations including use of unnecessary force. Five staff members have been sacked, three suspended and the centre’s director stepped down following the allegations.

The official inspectors say that the enforced removal of some staff, together with the fact that 67% of staff have left over the past 12 months, means that most current staff are very inexperienced. The inspectors say that G4S did not ensure they had sufficient support and supervision.

“Levels of violence in the centre are very high and growing. This includes violence between young people and violence towards staff, despite a small and stable population of young people. The centre’s senior managers are not aware of the increasing trends in many areas of the centre’s functioning, and this is a stark example of their lack of oversight and governance,” say the inspectors, concluding that Medway’s stability has been “sorely undermined”.

They say that recommendations by the Medway improvement board and G4S’s own improvement plan have not been implemented properly and even simple maintenance tasks, such as making sure the door locks work smoothly, that could have helped stabilise the centre, have not happened.

Among the examples revealed by the inspectors’ report are:

  • Two USB sticks containing “highly inappropriate” material have been found, making clear that young people held at the centre have been able to access pornography.
  • One young person was able to get hold of a broken pool cue and attempted to assault another child with it because it was insecurely stored and inadequate searching had taken place.
  • A games console was brought into the jail by a staff member for a child who breached procedures leading to serious misuse.

The inspectors found that rewards and sanctions were implemented inconsistently, levels of violence were high, particularly against staff, and oversight of the use of force and restraint was poor.

They also found evidence that violence against children and staff was under-reported and staff were unable to provide the inspectors with accurate records of the number of children requiring medical treatment as a result of assaults or fights. Use of force and restraint were increasing and the number of such incidents in May, the month before the inspection, was higher than at any point in the previous 12 months.

At the time of the inspection in June there were 29 young people aged 12-18 being held at Medway, which can hold up to 76 children sentenced or remanded in custody.

Lord McNally, the chairman of the Youth Justice Board, which is responsible for Medway, said the inspection findings were completely unacceptable.

“Work was advanced at the time of the inspection to transfer the running of the Centre to the National Offender Management Service (Noms). This has now taken place, with the appointment of a new centre manager and senior management team.

“I am determined that Medway STC should have the strong leadership, management and monitoring needed to deliver the quality and standards of care we all expect and which are essential for the safety and wellbeing of the children who are placed there,” he said.

But Andrew Neilson, the director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said the damning report underscored why G4S was no longer running Medway.

He said: “Children in Medway are not safe and, given the allegations that were made in the Panorama documentary in January, it is shocking to see that violence is under-reported and medical treatment is being inadequately recorded. This cannot go on.

“It is not simply the secure training centres which have proved failed models of child custody. In both young offender institutions and secure training centres we see problems of violence and cultures far removed from the caring environments children need. Radical action is required.”

Children’s rights campaigner Carolyne Willow, the director of Article 39, added: “If policy makers had given priority to children’s rights, there is no question that Medway secure training centre would have been long closed by now.

“Just because the children there are prisoners is no excuse for propping up an abusive institution. We cannot continue with this two-tier child protection system: every child, no matter where they are from or what they have done, is entitled to feel safe and to know that the authorities will do right by them when abuse happens,” she said.

Jerry Petherick, the managing director of G4S custodial and detention services, said the report was “deeply disappointing, coming as it does after a number of years in which Ofsted rated Medway as good or outstanding”.

He added: “This was clearly a period of intense disruption which created uncertainty and instability for the young people and staff at the centre and it proved extremely challenging to maintain appropriate staffing levels and standards.

“The management of Medway STC has now been transferred to Noms, and the lessons learned at Medway will be applied through a far-reaching review of our standards, skills and processes at Oakhill, our remaining STC near Milton Keynes. I fully expect this to translate into substantial changes to the way in which the centre is run.”


Alan Travis Home affairs editor

The GuardianTramp

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