Children being held in a privately run prison have been locked in their rooms for up to 23 hours a day in uncomfortably hot conditions, according to a damning report by three inspectorates.
Inspectors who arrived unannounced at Oakhill secure training centre (STC) for boys aged 12-17 identified “widespread failings” which they said were having “a significant impact on the care and wellbeing of the children held there”.
The centre’s records showed that from mid-July 2021 onwards, children being held at the institution in Milton Keynes spent approximately 19 hours a day on average locked in their rooms, increasing to 23 hours on some days, and the report noted that the true figure could have been even higher.
“The Youth Custody Service (YCS) reported to inspectors that it questions the accuracy of the centre’s data, indicating that the time children have spent locked into their rooms could be higher than that reported by the centre,” the report states.
It is not the first time concerns have been raised about children being held in near solitary confinement in STCs.
All children were removed from Rainsbrook, near Rugby in Warwickshire, after inspectors raised safety concerns when, at the start of pandemic, new arrivals as young as 15 were locked in their rooms for a fortnight and allowed out for just 30 minutes a day, because of concerns about coronavirus.
Some of those children were then transferred to Oakhill, which had 46 resident at the time of the monitoring visit in September. G4S, which runs Oakhill, blamed the highly restricted regime on a staffing crisis, with significant numbers forced to self-isolate because of Covid regulations.
The Oakhill report, by the schools watchdog Ofsted, the Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) and the Care Quality Commission (CQC), also identified a “significant increase in violence”. It said children’s day-to-day experiences were “very poor”, organisation was “chaotic”, children did not know what was happening from one day to the next, and education was often delivered through a locked bedroom door.
The report went on: “The temperatures in children’s living units and in other parts of the centre are too high. This leads to an environment in summer months that is not conducive to the positive care of children.”
Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said the “distressing” realities in the report echoed the league’s own findings of “boys locked in their cells for hours on end without fresh air or face-to-face education”.
“The Howard League opposed the creation of secure training centres in the 1990s. In the decades since, hundreds of boys and girls have been harmed and abused while private companies have profited from their misery. This report on Oakhill should be the final straw. It is time to close the secure training centres and ensure that boys and girls in trouble are given the care and support they need.”
A spokesperson for Oakhill said: “The safety of children at Oakhill secure training centre is paramount. Earlier this year, staff numbers at Oakhill were severely depleted by the impact of Covid-19 as significant numbers of staff were required, under prevailing regulations, to self-isolate at home.
“Since the Ofsted visit Oakhill’s operating regime for children has improved and, over the past month, children have been able to spend on average 12 hours out of their rooms daily. Education in classrooms has been restored and children are now receiving a full educational programme.”