Secure training centres in numbers

Carolyne Willow
Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Twelve years ago, at around midnight on 8 August, 14-year-old Adam Rickwood was found hanging by his trainer laces in his cell in Hassockfield Secure Training Centre (STC).

He left behind a note asking what gave Serco custody officers the right to hit a child in the nose. He had been inflicted with the nose "distraction", a prison service technique which applies severe pain to prisoners, noses. Adam's nose bled for around an hour and his request to go to hospital for an X-ray was refused.

Adam was remanded to Hassockfield, and had kept his packed sports bag in the staff room while waiting for a transfer to a children's home. He asked for the bag back the night he took his own life. In 2011, an inquest ruled that Adam had been restrained unlawfully.

As a younger child, Adam had ambitions to become a police officer. He later planned to run his own garage.

I've written many thousands of words about the abuse of children in STCs. Yesterday's Ofsted report on Medway STC adds to the huge body of evidence of child maltreatment. But still children continue to be detained there. So for this piece I'm ditching the prose and relying on numbers.

1998 Medway was the first of four STCs to open. At least three-quarters of children first detained there had lived in children's homes.

1999 Ofsted's first inspection of Medway STC. Inspectors report: "We had serious concerns about [the] number of child protection allegations and instances."

2 boys died following restraint in 2004. 15-year-old Gareth Myatt died from positional asphyxia after being forcibly held down in a seated position, with his head pushed to his knees. The three G4S custody officers "restraining" him ignored Gareth's cries that he couldn't breathe. 14-year-old Adam Rickwood took his own life after he was unlawfully restrained.

369 uses of the "seated double embrace" restraint technique, in the year before Gareth died. Children suffered life-threatening harm in 10 per cent of cases. Data relates to Rainsbrook STC only.

768 times the last-resort nose, rib and thumb "distraction" techniques were used in 2004/05. That is, children were inflicted with severe pain routinely and to make them comply with orders.

10 days before a girl who miscarried in Medway STC was taken to hospital in 2010. She was handed a sanitary towel and locked alone in her cell while miscarrying, aged 15.

1,699 occasions when children in STCs were made to remove all of their clothes and underwear and show their naked bodies to G4S and Serco custody officers in the 21-month period up to December 2012.

8 occasions when a child was made to strip off and wear a dressing gown, then show their naked body to a G4S custody officer in Medway STC, August 2015 to June 2016. Two instances were not properly authorised and a custody officer examined the child's body alone on two occasions. (Ofsted inspectors found discrepancy between G4S and Youth Justice Board data, so the figure of 8 full searches is likely to be an under-report).

28 custody officers working in STCs disciplined, suspended or sacked between 2006 and 2010.

2012 High Court judge declares that STCs had been unlawfully restraining children "probably from the beginning of the STC regime until at least July 2008".

2012 Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons issues its revised inspection standards for juvenile prisons. This states pain infliction should not be applied to children.

2 former social services directors undertook an independent review of restraint in child custody. They recommend in 2008 that children, parents and carers be told of the restraint techniques in use in custody. This recommendation was accepted by the Labour government.

3 years it took for full disclosure of the Physical Control in Care restraint manual, the system of restraint used in all four STCs between 1998 and 2013.

182 redactions to the Minimising and Managing Physical Restraint (MMPR) manual, published in 2012, which contains the restraint techniques now authorised for use on children in custody.

33% of MMPR techniques rely on the deliberate infliction of pain.

2016 GEOAmey custody officers are trained and empowered to use MMPR restraint techniques to transport children to and from STCs and secure children's homes. They can use waist restraint belts on children - a cloth belt that is wrapped around the child's waist with velcro straps for their wrists.   

51 restraint incidents that led to children losing consciousness, struggling to breathe or suffering serious injuries in Medway, Oakhill and Rainsbrook STCs in 2014/15.

7 months ago BBC Panorama broadcast undercover footage of children in Medway STC being subject to physical and emotional abuse.

2003 whistleblower writes to Youth Justice Board, Social Services Inspectorate and the Home Office with a catalogue of complaints of child mistreatment during restraint in Medway STC, including that a child's shoulder had been dislocated.

11 arrests to date following the BBC Panorama exposé of abuse in Medway STC, filmed between October and December 2015.

40 complaints G4S says it passed from children detained in Medway STC to Medway children's services in 2015.

1 month is the duration between a Local Safeguarding Children Board being notified of an incident that could require a serious case review and establishing such an investigation, according to safeguarding statutory guidance.

0 announcements that a serious case review has been established into the abuse of children in Medway STC, 211 days after the BBC broadcast the Panorama programme on the centre.

Carolyne Willow is the director of children's rights charity Article 39. She is the author of
Children Behind Bars: Why the Abuse of Child Imprisonment Must End, published by Policy

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