Yesterday Kent police investigating alleged abuse at Medway child prison, run by G4S, made five more arrests. The same day a report by prisons inspectors revealed that a child at another G4S prison, Parc, in Bridgend, Wales, had been strip searched while held under restraint, one guard had been dismissed for using “excessive force”, and children reported being verbally, physically and sexually abused.
G4S-run Medway secure training centre has been under close scrutiny since BBC Panorama broadcast undercover footage, in January, of children there being subject to physical and emotional abuse. This latest inspection report concerns the juvenile unit of an adult prison run by the same company. Inspectors visited the prison on the day of the Panorama programme, and stayed for 11 days.
Use of force by prison officers had tripled in Parc’s juvenile unit since the last inspection — there were 202 incidents in the previous six months, compared to 67 last time. In every incident, officers from the adjoining adult prison were called to carry out the restraint. Inspectors complain that the officers do not know the children. They would not have been recruited for their expertise in working with children either.
Inspectors found a case where a child had been strip-searched whilst held under restraint — again, this would have been by officers working in the adult parts of the prison. “Pain compliant locks” were used on children: the prisons inspectorate, alongside many other bodies, including the UN Committee Against Torture, has repeatedly said the deliberate infliction of pain should not be permitted in children’s prisons. One officer had been dismissed shortly before the announced inspection, for using “excessive force” on a child.
'All I asked you to do was clean this fucking door and you aint!' G4S Medway officer to boy, age 14 (BBC Panorama)
Some boys complained of officers restraining them away from CCTV, which has been reported by children across the secure estate for many years. After the G4S Medway child abuse scandal, the Youth Justice Board introduced body-worn cameras into all child prisons. Inspectors complain that there were not enough of them to ensure all incidents were captured. More evidence of the irrepressible penal culture.
About half the boys in this juvenile prison were looked after children, underlining the revolving door between care and custody highlighted powerfully by the Laming Review. Inspectors report: “Many boys had low levels of education and presented with clear difficulties in expressing their anxieties and problems; this was often characterised by angry outbursts or self isolation.” Prison cannot provide these children with the skilled intervention they need.
Three boys were refusing to come out of their cells because they were so frightened, and 7 boys (a quarter of those questioned) told inspectors they felt unsafe everywhere.
Eight children told inspectors they had been verbally insulted by officers, and there was one report each of physical abuse and sexual abuse by staff. Seven children said they had suffered physical abuse by other children.
Where is that government intolerance of poorly performing children’s services, when you need it?
At the end of February, G4S announced it would be selling its children’s services, including its government contracts to run Oakhill and Medway secure training centres.
Today’s inspection report is a reminder that the multinational has not completely surrendered looking after UK child prisoners. For it is not G4S Children’s Services that manages this contract, but G4S Central Government Services.
At the last inspection, in May 2014, the company was handed 31 recommendations and 7 of these had been achieved by the time inspectors visited again in January 2016. More than half (58%) had not been achieved at all. Only one of four recommendations in respect of children’s safety had been achieved.
As child prisons go, this inspection report delivers some positive news. Children are eating together in dining areas, they get some (limited) time in the fresh air each day, most are able to shower daily, they have telephones in their cells (though calls are expensive) and there are good quality educational resources. But this cannot detract from the prison environment and ethos, and the consequences for children’s safety and well-being.
Inspectors praised the “newly refurbished and restocked” prison library, which has “a good stock of easy readers, books based on popular films and games”. The report from Charlie Taylor’s Youth Justice Review is due to be published next month. A teacher by trade, Taylor is sure to see the absurdity of buying in easy reader books whilst holding children in locked cells for hours at a time, keeping them in permanent states of fear and delegating control and discipline to prison officers working with adults.