Sexual abuse in custody 'shockingly high', inquiry concludes

By Joanne Parkes

| 28 February 2019

A "shockingly high" number of children in custody and secure care settings have reported sexual abuse in recent years, according to an independent inquiry report.

Professor Alexis Jay, chair of the independent inquiry into child sex abuse, said children in custody are still at risk of sexual abuse

More than 1,000 incidents of alleged child sexual abuse have been reported at young offender institutions (YOIs), secure training centres (STCs) and secure children's home (SCHs), the Children in Custodial Institutions: 2009-2017 investigation reports.

The levels - much higher than previously understood - are of particular concern given the falling population of detained children, a summary of the report states.

Also highlighted are the risks posed to children remanded in custody prior to trial, which comprise around a third of the child custody population.

"This number of children exposed to the risks associated with custody seemed very high," it states.

The report makes a number of recommendations, including one urging the Department for Education and the Youth Custody Service (YSC) to review the potential increased risk posed by placing minors in secure children's homes.

In a short film introducing the report, Professor Alexis Jay, chair of the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse, says: "The harrowing accounts of non-recent child sexual abuse within custodial institutions were some of the worst cases this inquiry has heard.

"But I am also deeply disturbed by the continuing problem of child sexual abuse in these institutions over the last decade. It is clear these children, who are some of the most vulnerable in society, are still at risk of sexual abuse.

"I hope our report and recommendations can help protect them better in future."

The report documents the accounts of children at Feltham and Werrington YOIs, Medway and Rainsbrook STCs, and Vinney and Aycliffe SCHs, and highlights a string of incidents where staff were the alleged perpetrators.

One alleged incident at Rainsbrook in 2014 involved a member of staff watching an act of defecation by one young inmate on another.

At Medway in 2015, a female staff member was reported to have performed sex acts on children.

The report's seven recommendations designed to reduce risk of abuse to children in custody are:

  • The YCS commissions research into why the child remand population is as high as it is. 
  • DfE and YCS conducts a full review of the practice of placing children for justice and welfare reasons together in SCHs to establish whether it increases the risk of sexual abuse to children. 
  • YCS takes steps to ensure that its training provides staff with an appropriate understanding of safeguarding in the context of the secure estate, and that this is regularly reviewed and updated.
  • The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) introduces arrangements for the professional registration of staff in roles responsible for the care of children in YOIs and STCs. An Interim Report recommendation already applies to staff working with children in SCHs.
  • Pain compliance techniques should be seen as a form of child abuse, and the MoJ should withdraw all policy permitting its use, and set out that this practice is prohibited by way of regulation.
  • The MoJ revises and publishes the expired Prison Service Instruction (PSI) 08/2012, which sets out the mandatory actions for YOIs and STCs for ‘maintaining a safe and secure environment'. The PSI to provide clear guidance on how custodial institutions must respond to allegations of child sexual abuse. 
  • The MoJ and DfE share policy responsibility for managing and safeguarding children in custodial institutions, to ensure that standards applied in relation to children in custody are jointly focused on discipline and securing child welfare.

The recommendation to ban the use of pain-inducing restraint techniques has been particularly welcomed by children's rights charity Article 39. 

Carolyne Willow, director of Article 39, said: "Fifteen years after a 14 year-old boy, Adam Rickwood, hanged himself after being inflicted with pain as a form of restraint, these techniques must from today be seen for what they are - a form of child abuse. Ministers must act quickly to implement this  recommendation, which comes from the largest public inquiry ever established into child abuse." 

An application by Article 39 for a judicial review of the authorisation of the use of pain-inducing restraint techniques has been stayed until the conclusion of the Charlie Taylor Review and the the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights.

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