Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Written evidence submitted by Article 39 and the National Association for Youth Justice (NAYJ) (PCSCB08)


Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill


Clause 138 – Secure 16 to 19 Academies

Article 39 is a registered charity which fights for the rights of children living in state and privately-run institutions. Founded in 2015, we take our name from the part of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which entitles children who have been abused or neglected to recover in environments where their health, self-respect and dignity are nurtured.

The National Association for Youth Justice (NAYJ) is the only individual membership organisation which exclusively campaigns for the rights of and justice for children in trouble with the law.

NAYJ was formed in 1995 following the amalgamation of two existing organisations, the Association for Youth Justice and the National Intermediate Treatment Federation, and in 2010 became a registered charity. NAYJ seeks to promote the welfare of children in the youth justice system in England by campaigning, lobbying, publishing practice and policy papers and providing training events and conferences.

Our two organisations are founder members of the End Child Imprisonment campaign, whose latest publication – The case for ending child imprisonment (December 2020) – can be found here.

We are seeking amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, to enable local authorities to run S ecure 16 to 19 A cademies, either alone or in consortia , and to prevent these establishments being run for profit.

Clause 138, page 126, line 36, after "liberty" insert " and subject to regulations made in respect of secure children’s homes in England".

Clause 138, page 126, line 40, at end insert-

"(8)  A local authority may provide secure accommodation under this section.


(9)  A body corporate (including any of its subsidiaries) that is carried on for profit may not be a party to an arrangement to provide secure accommodation under this section."

The government committed in December 2016 to phase out child prisons (juvenile young offender institutions and secure training centres) and to replace them with a network of secure schools. These have since been renamed S ecure 16 to 19 A cademies, though legally they will also be secure children’s homes , and will be registered as such .

Latest official data shows there were 515 children in custody in March 2021. Only 63 children (12%) were held in a local authority-run secure children’s home – childcare establishments which are required by law to meet all of children’s needs. The majority (88%) of children were detained in young offender institutions and secure training centres. These are institutions which the Youth Justice Board concedes are not fit for purpose. [1]

Children may live in secure children’s homes after a family court has made an order depriving them of their liberty for welfare reasons [2] , or because a criminal court has remanded or sentenced them to youth detention accommodation. All but one of England’s secure children’s home s are run by local authorit ies (the other is run by a charity, though it does not look after children who are remanded or sentenced through the youth justice system ).

There is considerable expertise within the local authority sector in caring for children with very high levels of need in a locked environment. It does not make sense to exclude this knowledge and learning, and the failure of the last experiment in child detention – secure training centres – should be reason enough for the government to avoid contracting with organisations who have little or no experience of managing children’s residential care establishments. Moreover, in his review of youth justice which initially proposed the development of secure schools as an alternative to young offender institutions and secure training centres , Charlie Taylor outlined the importance of ensuring that this new form of custodial provision was closely integrated with mainstream children’s services. In the event that local authorities were responsible for providing secure schools that integration would be assured.

In 2019, the Ministry of Justice contracted Oasis Charitable Trust to run its first experimental secure school. Local authorities were not permitted to tender for this contract, because of the ir hybrid academy / secure children’s home status. The Local Government Association expressed concern that local authorities were unable to tender for the contract at the time.

As long ago as 1997, the then Chief Inspector of Prisons Lord Ramsbotham urged the removal of children from prison service institutions, explaining "The Prison Service is essentially an organisation for adults, neither structured nor equipped to deal with children. It is the plight of children that alarms us most…". [3] In May 2004, the coroner presiding over the inquest into the death of 16 year-old Joseph Scholes in a young offender institution took the highly unusual step of writing to the then Home Secretary asking that a public inquiry be established to consider, among other things, the availability and provision of local authority secure children’s homes. [4]

A public inquiry was never established into Joseph’s death – or any of the other 33 children who have died in prisons since 1990 – and it took until December 2016 for the UK Government to admit that prisons cannot be made fit for children; responding to a review of the youth justice system, Ministers agreed that young offender institutions and secure training centres should be phased out. [5] No timetable has followed and there is a distinct lack of urgency in transferring children to community settings or to secure childcare establishments when a period of deprivation of liberty is absolutely necessary.

Fifteen secure children’s homes were closed down in England between 2003 and 2018. Places were so desperately needed that in 2017 emergency amendments were made to the Children Act 1989 [6] , allowing children subject to secure accommodation orders (made by the family court) to be sent to Scottish secure units. However, family courts are increasingly expressing serious concern about the lack of specialist provision anywhere in the UK for children with very complex needs.

The pledge to phase out young offender institutions and secure training centres in December 2016 was in response to a review undertaken by Charlie Taylor, before he became the Chair of the Youth Justice Board (he is now her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons). The review was launched a few months ahead of a damning undercover BBC Panorama exposé of serious child abuse in Medway secure training centre, which was then managed by G4S. Staff were filmed verbally and physically assaulting children. One manager boasted of stabbing a child’s leg and arm with a fork, another recounted deliberately winding up a child so he could physically assault him and a third was caught on camera forcing a crying child to repeatedly denounce his favourite football team. A group of staff were filmed discussing fabricating a ‘restraint’ incident. It later transpired that the Youth Justice Board had 35 separate whistle-blowing (digital) documents in respect of this institution dating back seven years. [7] The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse reported in February 2019 that there were 44 alleged sexual abuse incidents in Medway secure training centre between October 2012 and

February 2017. [8]

Secure training centres themselves were intended by the former Conservative government to be centres of excellence in the care and education of children, [9] and this vision was then adopted by the Labour Party in 1997 when it continued the plans. G4S and Serco were contracted to run the four centres holding children aged 12 to 17 years. Twenty years later, the very strong warnings from the children’s and penal reform sector very regrettably have been proven apposite. In January 2012, the High Court found systemic unlawful restraint from when the centres opened. [10] Two boys, Gareth Myatt and Adam Rickwood, died following restraint in secure training centres in 2004. Only two secure training centres remain – Rainsbrook (run by MTCNovo) and Oakhill (run by G4S) and both continue to attract strong criticism around child safeguarding.

The announcement in October 2018 that Medway secure training centre would be refashioned as a secure school was made three months before the publication of the serious case review into child abuse there. It is implausible that lessons had been learnt given the scale and level of failure by local and national agencies, as well as G4S. [11] Our organisations strongly oppose the selection of the site of Medway secure training centre for any children’s establishment. It is part of a wider prison complex – Cookham Wood young offender institution and Rochester adult prison are close by – and the building was most recently used to house adult prisoners. The history of serious child abuse there over many years make it wholly unsuitable as a location for a child welfare establishment which rejects coercive and penal cultures.

Carolyne Willow, Article 39 Director, carolyne.willow@article39.org.uk
Tim Bateman, Chair, National Association for Youth Justice, info@thenayj.org.uk

May 2021

[1] Youth Custody Improvement Board (February 2017) Findings and recommendations of the Youth Custody Improvement Board.

[2] Section 25 Children Act 1989.

[3] Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisoners (1997) Young prisoners - a thematic review by HM Chief Inspector of prisons for England and Wales.

[4] See [2006] EWCA Civ 1343.

[5] Ministry of Justice (December 2016) The government response to Charlie Taylor’s Review of the Youth Justice System.

[6] Made by the Children and Social Work Act 2017. No public consultation or policy papers preceded these legislative changes.

[7] Medway Improvement Board (March 2016) Final report of the Board’s advice to Secretary of State for Justice.

[8] IICSA (February 2019) Sexual abuse of children in custodial institutions: 2009-2017 investigation report.

[9] See this from March 1993: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm199293/cmhansrd/1993-03-02/Debate-1.html

[10] R (on the application of) The Children’s Rights Alliance for England -v- The Secretary of State for Justice and others.

[11] The serious case review overview report can be found here: https://www.mscb.org.uk/mscb/downloads/file/167/2019---mscb---medway-stc-overview-report


Prepared 20th May 2021