Ministry of Justice scraps G4S junior prison contract after mistreatment probe

Justice secretary Michael Gove says improvement board report highlights “broader problems” with the youth justice system


By Jim Dunton

12 May 2016

Private security firm G4S has lost a six-year contract to run a secure training centre for young offenders in Kent, following allegations over the mistreatment of inmates.

An independent report into the standard of staff behavior at the Medway unit appeared to question the youth justice system’s ability to agree contracts with the private sector operators to ensure they properly safeguard young people.

In a written ministerial statement published on Thursday today, justice secretary Michael Gove confirmed that the G4S contract for Medway — which had been due to commence in July — would now not go ahead following investigations into the allegations, first aired by the BBC’s Panorama programme in January.

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January’s Panorama programme produced evidence of inmates being hurt and threatened by custody staff, and of a culture of tolerance of such behaviour — as well as complicity in its concealment.

Gove said that the findings of an improvement board report on practices at the secure training centre (STC) told “a powerful story — not just about what went wrong at Medway, but about broader problems in the youth justice system”, and particularly secure institutions for young offenders.

“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,” he said.

“The National Offender Management Service 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 improvement board report highlighted a “lack of clarity on the purpose of an STC”, and said leadership had driven a culture that appeared to be “based on control and contract compliance rather than rehabilitation and safeguarding vulnerable young people”.

Its authors said “significant concerns” remained that this culture and the emphasis on contract-compliance “may be leading to reports of falsification of records”.

They said secure training centres needed a “clearer child-based vision” that was driven by strong leadership and that the purpose of such centres across the country needed to be more clearly articulated.

“Current safeguarding measures are insufficient and outdated,” they added.

“There is too much emphasis on control and contract compliance and not enough on the best interests and mental wellbeing of the trainees.”

In addition to cancelling the G4S contract, Gove said he would appoint a “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”.

Gove said the conclusions reinforced the interim findings from a wider review of the youth justice system being prepared by Charlie Taylor and due to report this summer.

Peter Neden, G4S’s president for the UK and Ireland, said the practices exposed by Panorama had been “shocking and completely unacceptable” and had resulted in staff dismissals.

“These events were deeply disappointing after seven years of Medway achieving a good or outstanding rating from independent government inspectors and it is clear that the multiple levels of internal and independent oversight of the centre failed to detect the behaviour of these staff,” he said.

“We will continue to work closely with the MoJ to ensure that oversight and safeguards are strengthened.” 

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