Swept under the carpet

Yet again, the death of a young offender at someone else’s hands has resulted in no charges being brought and no inquiry. Gareth Myatt died at privately run Rainsbrook secure training centre in April 2004, and it has taken the Crown Prosecution Service 20 months to decide that there is insufficient evidence to prosecute. During this period the number of young offenders in custody has risen to an all-time high.

Gareth lost consciousness after being restrained by three members of staff. Someone is responsible – if not the three members of staff who restrained him using a technique that was permitted at the time, then those at Rebound ECD, a subsidiary of security company Group 4, which runs Rainsbrook. Whether anyone is also culpable, we will probably never know. The reality appears to be that the youth justice system results in no justice for these youths or their families – Gareth’s mother knows little about the facts behind her son’s death and is still waiting to hear when there will be an inquest.

The Youth Justice Board may have suspended the technique that killed Gareth and brought in new restraint guidelines, but unless there is a full inquest into his death, we may not know whether these are fatally flawed until it is too late.

How will private companies in these cases be held to account? Certainly not through legislation set to come in through the draft Corporate Manslaughter Bill, as the government plans to exempt deaths in police and prison custody from liability. This has been heavily criticised in a select committee report which is particularly concerned about exemptions for private firms that run prison and custody suites.

And that concern can only intensify as the probation service is increasingly privatised and local authorities hand their secure children’s homes over to private companies. Can there ever be objectivity in a system where the private sector profits by more young people coming through its doors?

More privatisation requires better government regulation. But the government’s refusal to overturn the exemption under corporate manslaughter reforms or to open a public inquiry into the death of any young offender does not inspire confidence.

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