Oakhill STC: Chief inspector Owers advises temporary closure

Chief inspector of prisons Anne Owers has recommended the temporary closure of Oakhill secure training centre  following serious concerns over the safety of children and staff.

A report published today, following a joint inspection with Ofsted, found that frequent assaults by children on staff and other children at the centre, near Milton Keynes, had led to “staggering” levels of use of force by staff.

Force was used 757 times in the nine months before the inspection in October last year, involving the highest level of restraint on 532 of these occasions. These required at least three members of staff, with one holding the child’s head.

The report warned that a “sharp reduction” in the use of force at the privately run centre, which holds up to 80 boys and girls, was required to reach the level of improvement required by the Youth Justice Board.

Staff were “demoralised” and had been stuck in fire-fighting mode” for a long time, leading to a high rate of staff turnover, the inspection between 9-10 October last year found.

In response to previous concerns, the Youth Justice Board placed a new director at the centre, run by Group 4 Securicor, in the hope he could turn it around.

Malcolm Stevens was put in post on 9 July last year after two unannounced inspections found Oakhill’s development was “poor”.

The YJB also limited the number of children at the centre to 56 and required Group 4 Securicor (G4S) to put a recovery plan in place.

While Stevens was beginning to “get to grips” with the problems, the task “remained immense” the inspectorate report said today.

“Our inspection confirmed that staff at Oakhill continued to struggle to maintain order and to control safely the children in their care. A number of troubled and troublesome children continued to pose serious challenges for staff, many of whom lacked confidence and appropriate training and who also, until recently, appeared to have had inadequate management,” the report said.

Owers recommended that it “might be more realistic for the YJB to empty the centre briefly” so it could be relaunched with “properly trained and reinvigorated staff”.

G4S said all of the recommendations in the inspectorates’ reports were being implemented and the STC’s performance had improved since the inspection. 

The government is currently reviewing the use of restraint on children in custody, following concerns raised in the inquests of Adam Rickwood and Gareth Myatt last year.

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