11:57, January 30 184 0 theguardian.com

2019-01-30 11:57:09
Scandal-hit children's prison still restraining inmates unlawfully – report

Staff at a scandal-hit children’s prison that was exposed for abusing its young inmates is still restraining young people unlawfully, a report from inspectors has revealed.

Inmates at Medway Secure Training Centre (STC) – boys and girls aged 12 to 18 – were restrained for passive non-compliance and staff were deliberately using techniques to inflict pain on them, according to the joint inspection by Ofsted, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons and the Care Quality Commission.

In 2016, an undercover Panorama documentary alleged that the centre, then run by the security firm G4S, was abusing inmates, and boasting about using inappropriate techniques to restrain children. A subsequent investigation by the Guardian revealed a history of abuse allegations at the centre in Rochester, Kent, and that a letter sent by two whistleblowers 12 years earlier to the Youth Justice Board, G4S, the Social Services Inspectorate and a Home Office minister had been ignored. G4S was stripped of its contract to run Medway STC the day the Guardian published its exposé.

Last week a serious case review into Medway STC concluded that a series of failings led to an “erratic and ineffective” monitoring of investigations into the abuse claims.

Now the joint inspection has revealed that the children’s prison, currently run by the Ministry of Justice, is again mistreating children in its care.

The report into the inspection states: “Inspectors are concerned about the use of restraint in response to passive non-compliance. This is poor practice and not in accordance with the secure training centre rules. Restraint is used frequently when children refuse to go to bed, and inspectors also saw other examples of non-compliance during the day.”

The report went on: “Inflicting pain was sometimes ineffective, and inspectors saw one occasion where an act of passive non-compliance resulted in a prolonged restraint and a pain-inducing technique being used. Deliberately inflicting pain significantly compromises children’s safety and welfare.”

In 2004, Gareth Myatt, 15, died after being unlawfully restrained by three officers in Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre, near Rugby. He had been restrained for refusing to clean a sandwich toaster, which he said he had not used.

In 2011, an inquest into the death of Adam Rickwood ruled that the 14-year-old had taken his own life at Hassockfield Secure Training Centre in County Durham after being unlawfully restrained with a technique known as nose distraction (a squeezing, tweaking, flicking or karate-like chop to the nose).

In 2014, G4S, Serco and the Youth Justice Board paid out a combined figure of almost £100,000 in damages to 14 children who had been assaulted in secure training centres between 2004 and 2008.

The joint inspection into Medway STC, which is to be closed next year and replaced by the country’s first “secure school”, revealed that most children had experienced the use of force or physical restraint and that there had been 330 restraints involving force by members of staff in the previous six months.

Inspectors voiced concern that 90 incidents over a three-month period had not been “quality assured” in weekly restraint minimisation meetings. Despite stating safeguarding improvements had improved since the last inspection, they said that internal safeguarding and child protection procedures were out of date and required updating to reflect recent statutory guidance.

“Duty governors have not undergone local authority designated officer awareness training, which would enhance their understanding of safeguarding arrangements,” they said.

In order for Medway STC to improve, the inspectors recommended that the use of force and restraint “complies with the secure training centre rules” immediately.

Within three months, inspectors recommended that “all use of force is reviewed by expert staff immediately after each incident, so that learning points can be raised with staff involved in order to improve their practice.”.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “The safety of all young people in custody is our absolute priority and we have made significant improvements at Medway since taking the site back into public control in July 2016.

“This report recognises that standards at Medway continue to improve, including oversight of the use of force, safeguarding and the quality of teaching and education.”

Carolyn Willow, whose charity, Article 39, fights for the rights of children in institutional settings, said: “It is unbelievable that after a Guardian exposé and a Panorama programme watched by millions that unlawful restraint can be still happening in this secure training centre. That was three years ago.

“If any child prison was to have been reformed and made safe for children, it would have been this one. Ministers must recognise that children have suffered enough, and close down this institution once and for all.”

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