The Ministry of Justice has amended statutory rules for secure training centres which would see children as young as 12 locked up for 22.5 hours per day.
An accompanying memorandum to the statutory rules states that children will have at least 1.5 hours out of their cells in each 24-hour period, instead of the usual 14 hours in Oakhill secure training centre in Milton Keynes run by G4S Care and Justice Services, and MTC managed Rainsbrook secure training centre in Northamptonshire.
In April 2020, there were 107 children detained in secure training centres. The STC’s can hold children as young as 12 years old.
Carolyne Willow, Article 39’s Director, said: “Children should not be held in any institution which cannot safeguard and promote their welfare. Keeping children locked up in prison cells for up to 22.5 hours a day is child abuse, there’s no question about that. It is psychologically and emotionally damaging for any child but especially cruel for those who have learning disabilities, mental health problems and for children who have endured earlier abuse and neglect.”
The memorandum states that the new operational guidelines, consistent with Public Health England advice, have been issued by the Youth Custody Service, HMPPS, to the Directors of the two STCs. This sets out a temporary minimum restricted regime for as long as appropriate during the coronavirus pandemic.
“This instrument introduces temporary modifications and controls to facilitate the effective running of STCs during a coronavirus period,” said the memorandum. “This is emergency legislation in response to the coronavirus pandemic where policy has been developed at pace to respond to an urgent situation in the two privately operated STCs. The changes required in the instrument could not have been predicted to lay in time to meet the 21-day rule [for laying in Parliament].”
Despite this, the expiry date for the dilution of legal protections for children is 25 March 2022.
The temporary minimum restricted regime provides children with:
a) Reduced time out of room: At least 1½ hrs out of room a day (normally 14 hrs)
b) Reduced access to classroom education: There are opportunities to attend teacher led sessions, in-room work and some children take part in independent study
c) Dining on the residential units or in-room; and
d) Daily opportunities to access fresh air.
All rooms are equipped with en-suite facilities and a telephone on which additional credit has been added. Skype facilities are also available. It is of note that throughout the lockdown phase of the Coronavirus outbreak in custody, broadly comparable to Level 4 in the community, the STCs have worked to provide as open a regime as possible despite the restrictions in place and they have taken a number of steps to mitigate the limitations caused by the pandemic.
As a result, Article 39 says children’s rights to family contact, education and work on their offending behaviour have all been diluted.
During a COVID-19 transmission control period:
- The Justice Secretary has been empowered to suspend children’s right to weekly visits, if he “considers that such a suspension is necessary as a result of the effects, or likely effects, of coronavirus on or in relation to trainees or the Secure Training Centre and proportionate to what is sought to be achieved”
- The Justice Secretary has been empowered to suspend children’s right to receive and send letters, and to have telephone calls, if he “considers that such a suspension is necessary as a result of the effects, or likely effects, of coronavirus on or in relation to trainees or the Secure Training Centre and proportionate to what is sought to be achieved”
- The duty on those running the secure training centres to ensure each child participates in education or training courses for at least 25 hours a week has been diluted to so far as reasonably practicable
- The duty on those running the secure training centres to provide education, training, physical education and programmes designed to tackle offending behaviour has been diluted to so far as is reasonably practicable.
A consultation exercise was not undertaken. The memorandum says that as the recovery phase gathers pace the level of regime in STCs will continue to increase moving as close to normal expectations as possible.
Carolyne Willow added: “Predicting the enormous challenges which prisons would face in meeting children’s needs, shortly before lockdown began we wrote with other organisations to Ministers urging them to safely release children from custody wherever possible. Government did not take this protective action and now it has found it necessary to change the law to reduce the statutory obligations of the companies who run secure training centres. Yet again, when children needed the government to take a firm stance on safeguarding their rights, they have been abandoned and providers protected.”
The children’s rights charity has submitted a Freedom of Information request asking for the following information:
A copy of any children’s rights impact assessment produced for The Secure Training Centre (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Rules 2020.
A copy of any equality impact assessment produced for The Secure Training Centre (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Rules 2020.
Information produced and circulated to children detained in secure training centres which explains the changes arising from The Secure Training Centre (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Rules 2020.
Information produced and circulated to parents of detained children, or local authorities when the child is looked after, which explains the changes arising from The Secure Training Centre (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Rules 2020.
Any correspondence between the Ministry of Justice and G4S Care and Justice Services and MTC in respect of The Secure Training Centre (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Rules 2020.
Any correspondence between the Ministry of Justice and Ofsted, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons and the Care Quality Commission in respect of The Secure Training Centre (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Rules 2020.
Any correspondence between the Ministry of Justice and the Youth Justice Board in respect of The Secure Training Centre (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Rules 2020.
The Secure Training Centre (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Rules 2020
Explanatory memorandum available here
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