This latest scandal also helps make the case for extending the Freedom of Information Act to cover private companies and charities providing ever-increasing swathes of public services. This from the Howard League Press Release:-
Howard League responds to BBC Panorama investigation into G4S-run Medway Secure Training Centre
The Howard League for Penal Reform has today (Tuesday 12 January) responded to an investigation by the BBC television programme Panorama into allegations of child abuse at Medway Secure Training Centre in Kent.
Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Watching this programme made me cry. The deliberate cruelty against children was one of the most upsetting things I have seen in this country. Shocking also was the institutionalised fraud being perpetrated to cover up that abuse.
“The children in Medway must be found other places within the next few days because this institution is rotten to the core. The contract should then be rescinded. The government ought to explore whether G4S should repay the taxpayers’ money it has received in the last few years. It has been paid to look after children and it has failed.”
The Howard League has warned for years about the systemic problems in secure training centres. The centres were introduced in the late 1990s alongside the Detention and Training Order, a short prison sentence for children followed by supervision in the community.
Frances Crook said: “Both the secure training centres and the sentences designed to put children in them were flawed from the start. Over the years we have seen enough problems at the secure training centres to confirm that they are failed institutions for a failed sentence.”
In April 2004, 15-year-old Gareth Myatt died from choking on his own vomit while being restrained in Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre in Northamptonshire. Four months later, 14-year-old Adam Rickwood was found hanging in his cell at Hassockfield Secure Training Centre in County Durham. An inquest later found that he had been unlawfully restrained and this had contributed to his death.
In 2012, a High Court judge ruled that the unlawful use of restraint had been widespread in privately-run secure training centres for at least a decade. The Howard League legal team has dealt with numerous concerns raised by or on behalf of young people at Medway dating from at least 2008. The team has also worked with adults who were detained there as children and who have raised concerns about their treatment.
Children at Medway who have been assisted by the Howard League legal team include:
- A 14-year-old boy, who was restrained on numerous occasions, the use of force amounting to an average of more than once a fortnight over the relevant period. The Howard League submitted complaints to the secure training centre and the Youth Justice Board monitor. Despite numerous requests, the charity was never provided with CCTV evidence of the incidents. In response to the complaints, the Youth Justice Board eventually agreed that the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman ought to investigate the issue. The Howard League awaits the final investigation report.
- A 16-year-old girl, who said that she was poked and called names, including foul language, by staff who forced their way into her room. She had placed a mattress against the viewing panel while on a constant watch. The Howard League made a safeguarding referral, which was investigated.
- A 17-year-old boy, who reported having been restrained for refusing to leave the dining area. The Howard League made a safeguarding referral and complained to the Youth Justice Board monitor on the boy’s behalf.
- A 15-year-old boy, whose mother contacted the Howard League. She said that staff had taken him into his room, where no cameras were, and hit him about the head. The charity made a safeguarding referral.
- A 16-year-old asthmatic boy, who complained that, while he was in education, he was restrained by staff who squeezed his head and neck, causing him to fall to the floor. The Howard League made a safeguarding referral.
Notes to editors
The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison. The BBC Panorama programme, ‘Teenage Prison Abuse Exposed’, was broadcast on BBC One at 8.30pm on Monday 11 January. It is expected to be available on BBC iPlayer shortly.
In August 2013, the Howard League wrote an open letter to the then Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling, outlining that the complaints system in place for secure training centres was ineffective and not sufficiently independent. A month later, the Prisons and Probations Ombudsman assumed jurisdiction of complaints from children in secure training centres. The letter can be viewed online here. The Howard League has published a report examining the use of force on children in custody. Twisted can be viewed online here. The Howard League’s report, Corporate Crime? A dossier on the failure of privatisation in the criminal justice system, can be viewed online here.
Rob Allen had this to say on his blogsite Unlocking Potential:-
It will be interesting to see whether what emerged following that programme five years ago are mirrored at Medway; residents too far from home, high rates of physical interventions , particularly restraint; agencies failing to pick up on key warning signs; management failure and a closed and punitive culture. Winterbourne view was closed within a month and major changes resulted, both in the treatment of people with severe learning disabilities (for example reviewing the appropriateness of placements in hospital) and in the regulation of providers (with stronger accountability and corporate responsibility for owners and directors of private hospitals and care homes and tighter inspection). Could we see analogous change in youth justice?
I have a particular interest in STC’s because, as some people won’t let me forget, I had a hand in their invention. Working on secondment in the Home Office in the early 1990’s, I found myself advising ministers about how to deal with what they saw as a national crisis caused by persistent young offenders, which was made much more acute by the horrific murder of James Bulger by two ten year old boys. Despite my and others advice, Kenneth Clarke was determined not only to create new closed institutions but to open up their running to the private sector. I well remember his junior minister Michael Jack, during visits we made to existing local authority secure units and Youth Treatment Centres (after the STC's had been announced) wishing that the decision to create something new had not been taken so precipitately. Jack seemed to echo then shadow Home Secretary Tony Blair’s view that if new secure places were indeed needed, it was insane not to expand existing provision.
I remember too attending a meeting at G4S’s then headquarters in Broadway where they explained their ideas for the new STC’s. They suggested that professionally trained and qualified staff were not necessary as it was simply a question of developing the correct procedures and getting staff to follow them. Staff thinking for themselves was seen as undesirable. If this was the approach they in fact applied when they won the first contract, it was to be exposed as grossly naïve when Medway faced all sorts of management problems when it finally opened in 1998.
What does the current scandal expose? For the second time in two years G4S has been shown unable to care for vulnerable and challenging young people in an acceptable way. There surely comes a point when they or the government must recognise that this is institutional failure. Unfortunately new contracts have recently been signed and the company will continue to run Medway and Oakhill STC’s while handing over Rainsbrook to new operators in May. Assuming the contracts are not going to be rescinded, how can the safety and wellbeing of children be guaranteed?
First, at the very least the government need to look at the way G4S recruit, train, supervise and support their staff and insist on change if it is found necessary. If there is a cost to the company, they should see it as a form of payment by results. The result of their current approach has been abusive and they should pay to fix it. The macro corporate renewal that was required after the tagging overbilling scandal needs to be replicated in their STC operation.
Second while G4S were at best foolish in appearing to shift the blame on other agencies for failing to spot the abuse before Panorama, the system of monitoring inspection and advocacy has undoubtedly failed. If the YJB’s days are already numbered, this latest debacle will almost certainly usher their demise when Charlie Taylor reports this summer. Funds should be diverted to enhance the child protection and advocacy systems within the STC’s.
Third a much more thoroughgoing and independent review of custodial care of juveniles should be ordered, ideally led by a judge or lawyer. Mr Taylor’s youth justice review absurdly excludes issues about the age of criminal responsibility and the powers of courts. Sir Martin Narey’s review of residential care is unclear in its scope and anyway compromised by his relationship with G4S and attempt to undermine the independent findings of inspectorates at Rainsbrook last year. Michael Gove is right that the best way to prevent scandals like this is to prevent children ending up in custody. He needs to ask how that can be achieved.
Meanwhile, some interesting information regarding another private contractor to the MoJ with a troubled background. This from the BuzzFeed News website:-
A trouble-hit British young offender facility is to be taken over by a US company that ran a prison criticised by a federal judge as a “horror as should be unrealised anywhere in the civilised world”. In September last year, outsourcing giant G4S lost its contract to run Rainsbrook secure training centre for young offenders in Northamptonshire. The centre has a troubled history: In 2004, Gareth Myatt, a 15-year-old boy, was restrained to death by guards at the centre.
In May last year at least six members of staff were dismissed after an official inspection found that young people were subjected to degrading treatment and racist comments. The inspection graded Rainsbrook “inadequate”, and only a few months later the Youth Justice Board announced that a new outsourcer, MTCNovo, would be taking over the site in May 2016.
MTCNovo describes itself on its website as “a new venture between the third, public and private sector, which has been established to provide rehabilitation and offender management services across London and Thames Valley”. It is a partnership between MTC (Management and Training Corporation), a Utah-based firm that grosses more than $500 million in yearly revenue, and Novo, a consortium that includes charities, the private contractor Amey, and Rise, the mutual that emerged from the scrapping of London Community Rehabilitation Company.
In June last year, BuzzFeed News revealed that MTC had run a prison in Mississippi that was lambasted by a judge for disorder and assaults on inmates by guards. In an order, Judge Carlton Reeves wrote:
The evidence before the Court paints a picture of a facility struggling with disorder, periodic mayhem, and staff ineptitude which leads to perpetual danger to the inmates and staff. The dangers that inmates face are not simply limited to assaults by other inmates but also from the guards.
The judge ruled in favour of the American Civil Liberties Union, which had asked the court to enforce a legal agreement requiring the state’s department of corrections and MTC to reduce violence, fix broken facilities, and improve staff training at the prison within five years.
This was far from the first controversy regarding MTC’s management of its prisons. In February 2015, thousands of prisoners in a prison in Texas rioted and had to be moved to other institutions over poor medical care among other issues. A month earlier, an inmate died following an assault in an Arizona State prison.
Only a few months before that, Christopher Epps, America’s longest-serving prison commissioner, was embroiled in a corruption scandal that involved him receiving bribes in return for private prison contracts to firms either owned by or linked to a state official named Cecil McCrory. One of these firms was MTC, which denied any knowledge of corruption.
A question has been asked in the House of Lords about the decision to award MTCNovo the contract and whether the company, “including its partners or significant subcontractors, has been found to have breached human rights or equality legislation in the last three years, either in the United Kingdom or abroad”. The justice minister Lord Faulks replied: “There were no findings of a breach in human rights or equality legislation.”
BuzzFeed News contacted MTCNovo for comment but was referred to the Youth Justice Board, which had not responded by the time of publication. The Ministry of Justice was also asked for comment but has yet to respond. The outsourced youth detention sector is facing increasing pressure as a result of recent revelations. On Monday night, BBC’s Panorama will air allegations of abuse at Medway Secure Training Centre in Kent, which is currently run by G4S, after it won the contract at the time it lost Rainsbrook.
Seven staff members have been suspended and a police investigation is underway following the programme’s undercover filming. According to the BBC: Among the allegations uncovered by Panorama and now subject to investigation are that Medway staff:
- Slapped a teenager several times in the head
- Pressed heavily on the necks of young people
- Used restraint techniques unnecessarily - and that included squeezing a teenager’s windpipe so he had problems breathing
- Used foul language to frighten and intimidate – and boasted of mistreating young people, including using a fork to stab one on the leg and making another cry uncontrollably
- Tried to conceal their behaviour by ensuring they were beneath CCTV cameras or in areas not covered by them.