Photograph by Andy Aitchison at PRISONiMAGE, (@prisonimage)

Photograph by Andy Aitchison at PRISONiMAGE, (@prisonimage)


Monday night’s Panorama investigation into mistreatment at a G4S-run youth offenders’ unit in Rochester has led to four arrests and calls for G4S to lose all its youth detention centre contracts.

The BBC’s undercover investigation at Medway Secure Training Centre documented a series of dangerous practices by G4S staff. At one point, a member of staff named Anthony boasted about abusing a 14 year-old: ‘I went bang and that was it… . I went “come on then you fat little prick”… . He was nearly in tears.’ In another incident, a member of staff can be seen squeezing a teenager’s windpipe as the teenager called out, ‘I can’t breathe’.

The programme ‘shocked and appalled’ MPs and police are now investigating several members of staff at the youth detention centre. On Sunday, Andy Burnham, the shadow home secretary, called for G4S to lose all of its youth detention centre contracts, saying that ‘we’ve heard these things time and again, and every time we’ve had bland assurance from G4S it won’t happen again and yet it just carries on the same.’

On Monday, Michael Gove, the justice secretary, responded to an urgent question in the Commons on safety in prisons and detention centres. Gove said that the allegations would be treated with the ‘utmost seriousness’ and promised that the Youth Justice Board and the Ministry of Justice would assist the police and the local council in ‘every possible way’. During questioning, Andy Slaughter, a shadow justice minister, called for all G4S detention facilities to be put into special measures to ‘assess the safety and competence of their operation’. In a question to Gove, Slaughter quoted Deborah Coles, the chief executive of INQUEST, who said that the actions of G4S’ staff constituted ‘child abuse’.

Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson, said: ‘We have known for years that there are problems with these institutions.’ Carmichael claimed that it would be wrong to ‘scapegoat’ the staff and ignore the systemic failures of ‘the education system, the care system and the social work system’.

In response to the investigation, the Howard League for Penal Reform described the Medway centre as ‘rotten to the core’ and said that ‘all children in Medway must be found other places within the next few days’.

Following the BBC investigation, G4S suspended seven members of staff at the Medway centre. Today four men were arrested on suspicion of child neglect by police investigating the claims made in the Panorama report.

Author: Ollie Persey

Ollie Persey is a legal fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union, where he works on issues concerning criminal justice, international human rights law, and mental health

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  • Martin Wright January 14, 2016 10:09 am

    There should clearly be a requirement for training in restorative methods, and management on restorative lines, in the contract of commercial providers of such services; and this should apply if, as many hope, the services are taken back into public management. They should follow the insight of John Howard in 1792: there is ‘a way of managing some of the most desperate, with ease to yourself, and advantage to them’ – all the more true in the case of vulnerable teenagers. If they are desperate, it is their treatment that has made them so.

  • Joe Kilker January 14, 2016 3:07 pm

    One aspect of this that may have been overlooked is that the authorities almost certainly had an inkling of what was going on, and if they can turn a blind eye to even this, what else do they regard as dismissable, for the sake of ‘efficiency savings’? In Gloucester, our council never fixes a streetlight unless we practically drag them out to see it, and there are several railings mangled by crashes that have been untouched for months. but how trivial must that be, compared to violently abusing young offenders?

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