The government has been urged to close Medway Secure Training Centre by a coalition of organisations following an Ofsted inspection which found that children are being unlawfully restrained there.
The group including Article 39, Inquest, CoramBAAF, Children England and Nagalro alongside leading social work academics including Professor Ray Jones and Liz Davies sent a joint open letter to the Justice and Children’s Ministers urging them to close Medway STC and discontinue plans to make it the country’s first experimental secure school.
Director of Article 39 Carolyne Willow, said: “Whenever there is institutional failure stretching back many years, there comes a point when someone in charge has to take decisive action and say ‘enough is enough’. The serious case review and the latest inspection report show deep fault lines in protecting children.
“If this child prison was a children’s home or a school, its gates would have been closed shortly after the shocking BBC Panorama exposé of physical and emotional abuse three years ago.
“Ministers must stand up to the false optimism that the institution can reform itself, and local and national agencies will properly scrutinise and protect children. The continuing revelations show that this is not possible. A change of name to secure school and a small refurbishment is not going to address the systemic failings. The centre must be closed for good,” she added.
The letter to Edward Argar parliamentary under secretary of state for the Ministry of Justice and Nadhim Zahawi parliamentary under secretary of state for children and families in the Department for Education states that the group were “appalled” to read the Serious Case Review published by Medway Safeguarding Children Board which outlined a “litany of failures”.
It adds that it was not just G4S that failed to protect children, but local agencies and the LSCB responsible for ensuring effective child protection and safeguarding measures.
The letter highlights that the Ofsted report had revealed that pain-inducing restraint is still being used in Medway for non-compliance which, it says, is a breach of children’s right to protection from inhumane and degrading treatment and punishment under Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
The legacy of failure at the centre means it is “not safe” for the government to pursue its plans to make the centre an experimental secure school.
The organisations highlighted how 15 years ago two children, Adam Rickwood and Gareth Myatt, died after being physically restrained in secure training centres. However, the Ofsted inspection revealed that pain-inducing restraint is being used, child protection procedures are out of date and there were 90 incidents of restraint in the three months prior to the inspection which had not been quality assured. Further, strip-searching records were not always adequate.
“Three years after the Panorama programme and 15 years after the deaths of two children, this points to an institution and local safeguarding systems which are incapable of reform to properly protect children,” said the letter.
“We urge you to close down this institution and move children to settings where they will receive safe and skilled care,” said the letter.