Following the troubling allegations raised by whistleblowers – and documented by the BBC’s “Panorama” – about the treatment of young people in custody at Medway, I appointed an Independent Improvement Board to investigate the centre’s governance and the safeguarding measures in place there.
I am today publishing the Board’s report, which tells a powerful story – not just about what went wrong at Medway, but about broader problems in the Youth Justice System, and specifically in the children’s secure estate. The Board’s conclusions reinforce the interim findings from the separate, wider review that I have asked Charlie Taylor to prepare on the Youth Justice System, which will report this summer.
Given the findings of the Independent Improvement Board, the pending Charlie Taylor review and the announcement by G4S in February 2016 of its intention to sell its Children’s Services business I have agreed with G4S that the new contract to operate Medway will not proceed.
The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) will take over the running of Medway in the short term – by the end of July – and will work closely with the Youth Justice Board on the enhanced monitoring arrangements that will be put in place. Beverley Bevan – an experienced prison governor with seven years’ experience of working with young offenders – will be appointed as the Governor at that time.
The Independent Improvement Board made a series of recommendations which we accept in full and which will be implemented across all three Secure Training Centres (STCs). By implementing these recommendations, we will strengthen external scrutiny, safeguarding and monitoring arrangements and clarify the responsibilities of organisations and individuals involved in providing services at all STCs. Steps will be taken to ensure that whistleblowers – including young people who speak out – are supported and listened to.
However, the fundamental problem identified by the Independent Improvement Board was that those running Medway conceived of it as a place of coercion, where the culture and the incentives – as they were designed in the contracts – were centred around the corralling and control of children, rather than their full rehabilitation. Their focus should instead have been on education and care, on identifying root problems and giving children the opportunity to find their way back into society, and to make something of themselves.
Charlie Taylor’s interim findings have made it clear that the places where young offenders spend time should not be junior prisons, but secure schools. I am announcing today that each of the Secure Training Centres will have a new governing body who will scrutinise and support those running each centre. This will be a first step towards giving these centres the type of oversight and support that we would see in an ordinary school.
When Charlie’s final report is published, I hope we will be able to move swiftly to a model which ensures that the educational mission of these establishments is central to their existence.
Based on the findings of the Independent Improvement Board, I will appoint a similar Youth Custody Improvement Board to work across the youth secure estate, to help to make sure that children are safe and to improve standards of behaviour management in each Secure Training Centre and Young Offender Institution that holds children, including those currently run by NOMS. I will confirm the Board appointments in due course.
I am grateful to all the members of the Independent Improvement Board who delivered their important work at such impressive speed.
This report, and our response to the recommendations made by the Independent Improvement Board can be found at www.gov.uk/government/publications/medway-improvement-board-report-and-moj-response-to-its-recommendations. I will place a copy of these in the Libraries of both Houses.