Saturday, February 04, 2012

The Abuse of Children In Privately Run Prisons

By John Bowden

After more than a decade of unlawful abuse and brutality within child prisons run by private security companies it took the deaths of two young people and the inquests into those deaths to finally expose the sort of violence routinely inflicted on children held in such institutions. A subsequent legal action brought by the Children's Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) laid bare completely what had been going on in these places, and on the 11th January the High Court delivered a judgement that was absolutely damning of the privately owned and run “Secure Training Centres” (STC) and the brutality of their regimes.

In his judgement Judge Justice Foskett said that in bringing the case CRAE had shone “a light into a corner which might otherwise have remained in the dark,” and indeed it was a corner of the penal system where the brutalisation of already damaged children in the name of so-called “restraint” was endemic and institutionalised and actively encouraged and promoted by the government's Youth Justice Board. It was also revealed that none of the statutory agencies charged with monitoring the care and treatment of children in the STCs did anything to stop the unlawful treatment. Clearly the human rights of such powerless working class children counted for nothing.

What the ruling finally exposed were places where a culture of abuse had been allowed to flourish and where the victims were too terrified to complain and accepted such treatment as an inevitable part of their captivity. In his Judgement Justice Foskett said, “I do not think there can be any doubt that in the vast majority of cases the detainees made the subject of an (unlawful) restraint technique would simply have accepted it as part and parcel of the routine in the STC. There is, of course, also the inevitable reluctance that there would have been on the part of the young detainee to “rock the boat” by making a complaint.” Too frightened to complain on their own behalf, the children subjected to abuse and ill treatment were given absolutely no protection by social workers or prison inspectors who knew exactly what was going on. Justice Foskett said in this regard, “It is a legitimate comment that until the deaths of Gareth Myatt and Adam Rickwood, and the investigations and inquiries that resulted from these deaths, none of the agencies in place to monitor what took place within an STC had identified and/or acted to stop the unlawful nature of what was happening.” In fact, so-called monitors from the Youth Justice Board actively encouraged restraint techniques (which were often injury inducing) that were criticised by the United Nations, the European Torture Committee and Parliamentarians on the Joint Committee on Human Rights. These techniques included the “nose distraction” technique, which involved members of staff punching non-complying children on the nose; other “restraint” techniques included punching children in the ribs and yanking their thumbs back. 14 year old Adam Rickwood was subjected to the “nose distraction” technique hours before he hung himself.

The extent of the abuse was also revealed in the judgement. The number of violent “restraints” on children ran at over 350 per month across the 4 STCs up until July 2008. Hassockfield STC seemed to use an almost gratuitous amount of violence against it's child inmates and during a six month period in 2004 applied violent “restraint” approximately 570 times.

The widespread use of unlawful violence over such a prolonged period was allowed and encouraged to take place because those employing it operated without any accountability and because an environment of frequent staff brutality was obviously considered appropriate for difficult and rebellious working class children.

Despite delivering a scathing condemnation of the STC regimes, Justice Foskett refused to make a judgement requiring the state to identify victims and notify them of their right to seek compensation. He claimed that such a judgement might have a “springboard” effect in creating a mass of compensation claims from both children and adults abused in state institutions. There was no suggestion either that a police investigation should be conducted into what took place in the STCs over such a prolonged period, nor any inquiry into the culpability of senior management at G4S and Serco or why both companies are continuing to run and operate penal facilities for children. In effect, everyone involved in the unlawful abuse of children in the
STCs for over a decade got off scot-free.

An important question that emerges from this case is why the care and custody of already damaged children is still being entrusted to profit-driven private companies like G4S and Serco, who have clearly shown by this case a total disregard for the human rights of those in their custody? Running jails for profit is always morally dubious, but when it has been clearly established and proven that children have been so brutalised by regimes operating in privately owned child jails that some of them have been driven to kill themselves, then the whole corrupt business needs to be fundamentally questioned.

John Bowden
HMP Shotts
January 2012

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