Children were held in a ‘chaotic’ privately-run prison in Milton Keynes for up to 23 hours a day throughout the summer without proper air conditioning or ventilation, according to a damning report from prison inspectors identifying widespread failings. Oakhill secure training centre is run by G4S and holds up to 80 boys aged 12 to 17 years.
Children complained to inspectors of ‘chaotic arrangements and general disorganisation’ at the centre with activities cancelled at the last minute as a result of staff shortages. They children said that ‘they did not know what was happening from morning to afternoon, or from one day to the next’.
Since mid-July 2021, boys had spent approximately 19 hours a day locked in their rooms and, on some days, this increased to 23 hours. However inspectors reported concerns about the data ‘indicating that the time children have spent locked into their rooms could be higher than that reported by the centre’.
Inspectors highlighted problems with the air conditioning and expressed concern that the living conditions during the summer were so hot so as not to be ‘conducive to the positive care of children’. ‘There was no means of cooling the children’s living units or staff administration areas. This makes living and working at the centre very uncomfortable at best.’
Staff told inspectors morale was ‘very low’ and that they did ‘not feel supported by managers’. According to the centre’s own records, minimum staffing levels required for safe and appropriate care of children were not met on the ‘vast majority’ of days in July and August this year.
Strategies to encourage children to develop positive behaviours and social skills were ‘in disarray’. ‘Some children told inspectors that they are able to intimidate staff in order to retain incentives that they have not earned and are not entitled to,’ the report recorded. ‘The failure of managers and centre staff to implement appropriate and reasonable boundaries appears to be a contributing factor to a significant increase in violence, use of force and single separation (where children are locked into their rooms due to being a significant risk to themselves or others),’ it continued. ‘Since the last inspection, these incidents have increased and are at an extremely high level.’