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Thursday, January 14, 1999 Published at 17:39 GMT


Child jail 'facing crisis'

Medway: Scene of serious disturbances

Britain's first child jail is "facing crisis", according to a damning social services inspectorate report.

The BBC's Alison Holt: "Damning inspection will fuel demands for closure"
The report said children were subjected to "excessive use of force" and physical restraint by poorly trained staff at Medway Secure Training Centre in Kent which opened last April.

This meant that instead of weaning the inmates off a life of crime, the pioneering centre underlined their criminality.

Neck and wrist restraints were used on the inmates aged between 12 and 14, flouting medical advice and the centre's own rules, said the report.

"There can be no doubt Medway is facing a crisis. Although many new secure units face significant difficulties in the early months after opening, the problems experienced surpass most," it said.

Medway has seen 14 disturbances since opening last April.

The BBC's Alison Holt: "These children have been blamed for mini crime waves"
More than a third of the 100-strong staff have left following 95 assaults, 26 of which required medical treatment.

The social services inspectors said there were numerous outbursts of disruption during their visit to the centre.

A squad of 12 staff, supposed to be called up in a crisis, were frequently relied up on by staff to restore control.

This, the report said, only served to underline the offenders' sense of "injustice and powerlessness".

Security fears meant that offenders spent too long locked up and the building had been so badly damaged that they had become dangerous.

Overall the report blamed inexperienced and unqualified staff for the jail's inability to handle its inmates.

Although staff motivation was praised, the majority had neither the qualifications necessary for the work, nor experience in dealing with young people.

Most disturbed

The report said the establishment's potential could be developed through "good management and role modelling" and is dependent on the appointment of more appropriate staff.

Francis Crook of the Howard League for Penal Reform: "We have to do something that's constructive"
Children sent to Medway are among the most disturbed in the country and remain there for between three and 12 months.

All have been convicted of three imprisonable offences and have failed to stick to the terms of a supervision order.

Further contracts

Home Office Minister Paul Boateng said he now expected Rebound ECD, which runs the centre, to deliver on the report's recommendations.

He said: "The public interest demands that the young people at Medway are effectively trained and contained when sentenced by the courts.

"This must take place in conditions of safety and security for the public, the staff and of course the trainees themselves."

Rebound said it did accept the criticism of the report, but that it had already implemented many of its recommendations and was in the process of dealing with others.

Overcoming problems

Spokesman David Dickinson said: "We accept there were significant problems at the centre in its early months of operation, but we believe we have largely overcome them and turned the corner."

He said assault rates on staff had fallen as had the number of resignations.

Confidence among staff was also much higher so there was less need to confine inmates to their rooms.

There was also a new head of education and more support for the youngsters in the form of a psychologist, a psychiatrist and more teachers.

Despite the furore over Medway, a similar centre also run by Rebound is due to open in Onley, Northamptonshire, next year.

A contract for a third jail in County Durham has also been signed and two more are planned.

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14 Jan 99 | UK
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