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.
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