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12 May 2016

Medway report vindicates Howard League’s unswerving opposition to secure training centres

The Howard League for Penal Reform has today (Thursday 12 May) responded to a written statement by the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Michael Gove, about Medway Secure Training Centre in Kent.

It coincides with the publication of a report by an independent improvement board, which was set up in January to investigate the child jail after allegations of abuse were made in a BBC Panorama documentary.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said:  “This is a comprehensive and wide-ranging report that goes well beyond considering one company’s failings or the idea that a few bad apples are at fault. G4S, the Youth Justice Board and Barnardos advocates are all criticised heavily.

“The Howard League has been saying for 20 years – ever since secure training centres were first envisaged – that the concept was rotten. Today’s report vindicates this view. It is devastating to think about the thousands of children who have been through the doors of these child jails.

“We welcome the removal of G4S, but we question whether the National Offender Management Service can address these fundamental concerns. Medway and the other two secure training centres should be closed.”

The Howard League has warned about the systemic problems in secure training centres ever since their introduction in the late 1990s.

In April 2004, 15-year-old Gareth Myatt died from choking on his own vomit while being restrained in Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre in Northamptonshire.

Four months later, 14-year-old Adam Rickwood was found hanging in his cell at Hassockfield Secure Training Centre in County Durham. An inquest later found that he had been unlawfully restrained and this had contributed to his death.

In 2012, a High Court judge ruled that the unlawful use of restraint had been widespread in privately-run secure training centres for at least a decade.

The Howard League legal team has dealt with numerous concerns raised by or on behalf of young people at Medway over the years. The team has also worked with adults who were detained there as children and who have raised serious concerns about their treatment.

Children at Medway who have been assisted by the Howard League legal team include:

  • A 14-year-old boy, who was restrained on numerous occasions, the use of force amounting to an average of more than once a fortnight over the relevant period. The Howard League submitted complaints to the secure training centre and the Youth Justice Board monitor. Despite numerous requests, the charity was never provided with CCTV evidence of the incidents. In response to the complaints, the Youth Justice Board eventually agreed that the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman ought to investigate the issue. The Howard League awaits the final investigation report.
  • A 16-year-old girl, who said that she was poked and called names, including foul language, by staff who forced their way into her room. She had placed a mattress against the viewing panel while on a constant watch. The Howard League made a safeguarding referral, which was investigated.
  • A 17-year-old boy, who reported having been restrained for refusing to leave the dining area. The Howard League made a safeguarding referral and complained to the Youth Justice Board monitor on the boy’s behalf.
  • A 15-year-old boy, whose mother contacted the Howard League. She said that staff had taken him into his room, where no cameras were, and hit him about the head. The charity made a safeguarding referral.
  • A 16-year-old asthmatic boy, who complained that, while he was in education, he was restrained by staff who squeezed his head and neck, causing him to fall to the floor. The Howard League made a safeguarding referral.

Invariably the Howard League’s complaints are not upheld. The charity now contends that it has been proved correct in its criticisms and that the individual complaints were justified.

Notes to editors

  1. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
  1. The written ministerial statement on Medway secure training centre by the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Michael Gove, can be viewed online here.
  1. The report of the independent Medway Improvement Board can be viewed online here.
  1. In August 2013, the Howard League wrote an open letter to the then Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling, outlining that the complaints system in place for secure training centres was ineffective and not sufficiently independent. A month later, the Prisons and Probations Ombudsman assumed jurisdiction of complaints from children in secure training centres. The letter can be viewed online here.
  1. The Howard League has published a report examining the use of force on children in custody. Twisted can be viewed online at here.
  1. The Howard League’s report, Corporate Crime? A dossier on the failure of privatisation in the criminal justice system, can be viewed online here.


Rob Preece
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