Youth prison deemed 'unsafe' less than two years after staff accused of physical abusing children

Inspectors report rise in incidents of violence and use of force at Medway Secure Training centre less than two years after staff came under fire for 'punching and slapping children'

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The Independent Online

A youth prison that came under fire last year after allegations that staff had physically abused young offenders has been rated inadequate by inspectors.

Medway Secure Training Centre, which was previously run by G4S but was taken over by the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) last July, has been deemed "unsafe" despite its management shifting to the public sector, according to an Ofsted report.

The total number of incidents of violence and use of force increased from an average of 20 a month to 40 in February 2017, while since the last inspection a year ago, there have been "five serious injuries or warning signs" identified during restraints — in all of which children said they could not breathe. 

The report, produced jointly by Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prison, states that security arrangements at the centre, which holds children as young as 13, remain inadequate and child protection records are incomplete.

Areas of the jail where young people report feeling unsafe were not covered by CCTV, and body-worn cameras issued to staff were not always switched on when they should have been, according to the findings.

It comes less than two years after seven workers at the centre were suspended after undercover filming by the BBC’s Panorama programme appeared to show them punching and slapping children, in what amounted to abuse and mistreatment of the young people in their charge.

The new report warns that the centre is failing to recruit staff who are trained to work with under-18s, with most staff and managers having little understanding of risks to young people, such as child sexual exploitation and radicalisation.

Young inmates have even been able to watch sexually explicit content on television, with managers yet to put in place measures to prevent a repeat of such incidents, inspectors said.

The lack of auditing and recording systems has also meant horticultural tools have gone missing, with staff unaware of the loss or the discrepancy between the log of items and the actual items in situ.

Responding to the findings, Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said the centre was "clearly unfit to look after children", adding that secure training centres, which are described as education-focused centres for children aged 12 to 17, are a "failed model of detention".

“Almost 18 months have passed since the BBC’s shocking Panorama documentary, and yet today we read another awful report on Medway, which is clearly unfit to look after children," she said.

“The Howard League opposed the creation of secure training centres in the 1990s and warned that children would be damaged and hurt in these institutions.

"For many years independent inspectors’ findings have underlined that this is a failed model of detention. After 30 years of children being mistreated and their life chances damaged, it is time to put an end to this.

“The G4S years were disastrous. Unfortunately, running Medway in the public sector does not appear to have made much difference. Children are still being placed in this jail, despite there being empty beds in the well-run local authority units."

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We are pleased that this report found Medway has made steady progress in a number of areas since the last inspection, but we are clear that there is still a lot of work to do.

“That is why we are implementing a comprehensive plan which includes the appointment of new specialist, highly-trained staff and improved support for vulnerable children. We will continue to work hard to drive improvements.