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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 August, 2004, 19:53 GMT 20:53 UK
'Child jails' put under spotlight

By Jon Silverman
Legal affairs analyst

Adam Rickwood
Restraint may have played a role in Adam Rickwood's death
For the second time in three months, a teenage boy has died in a secure training centre and many legitimate questions are being asked about the standard of care and discipline in what critics call "child jails".

England's three secure training centres (STCs) hold 188 children, some as young as 12.

They are there because their behaviour is so wayward and challenging.

They are also there because they are highly vulnerable and the chief issue is whether staff are being adequately trained to deal with such vulnerability.

Fifteen-year-old Gareth Myatt, who died at Rainsbrook in Northamptonshire in April, was being physically restrained when he lost consciousness and the ongoing inquiry is focusing on the manner of that restraint.

Deborah Coles of the pressure group Inquest said there was evidence that restraint had also played a role in the death of 14-year-old Adam Rickwood, at Hassockfield in County Durham.

Adam Rickwood died at Hassockfield secure training centre
Adam Rickwood died at Hassockfield secure training centre

"We are very concerned about the over-use of restraint in the STCs," she added.

"And we need to know how much priority in staff training is given to suicide prevention and how much to working with such vulnerable children."

Despite the plethora of inquiries into this latest death - the Youth Justice Board, Premier Prisons, which runs Hassockfield, the Commission for Social Care Inspection and the Prisons Ombudsman are all involved - the Home Office is now under considerable pressure to mark the gravity of the problem by setting up a public inquiry.

If Parliament was sitting, the home secretary could expect to be lobbied by MPs, 30 of whom signed a motion in July calling for an inquiry into the death of 16-year-old Joseph Scholes at a young offenders institution in 1992.

There has never been a public inquiry into the death of a juvenile in custody and there are no signs that David Blunkett is about to announce one.

Court battle

Nor is the government impressed by criticism that the care of such vulnerable youngsters should not be in the hands of private contractors.

It is pointed out that staff-inmate ratios are relatively high and that private custody has tended to drive up standards in the public sector.

But ministers have already lost a court battle over their failure to apply the Children Act to the care of children in custody.

The lessons learned from the deaths of Adam Rickwood and Gareth Myatt may have an even more profound impact on the way these youngsters are treated.

Inquiry call after custody death
10 Aug 04  |  England
Remand teenager is found hanged
09 Aug 04  |  England
Funeral held after custody death
25 Jun 04  |  Northamptonshire

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