Last September, G4S won a £50m, five-year contract to continue to run the Medway secure training centre, the young offender establishment in Kent which the company has operated since it opened in 1998. The new contract was due to start today but the Ministry of Justice have put it on hold. Instead the current contract is being extended for four months while the MoJ considers what to do. This will enable them “to properly consider all options for the future delivery of services at Medway".Since September of course there have been a number of dramatic developments. January saw Panorama reveal abusive behaviour (and its cover up) by staff at Medway and an Improvement Board was established to ensure that children are properly safeguarded there. The following month G4S announced their intention to sell all of their children’s services business, which includes Medway and the other STC they run, Oakhill in Milton Keynes. In the meantime, the interim report of Charlie Taylor’s youth justice review outlined a vision for a different approach to detaining young people, which at the very least puts a question mark against the long term future of STC’s.
Before Medway opened, I wrote a piece in the Guardian- Bars to Progress- posing three questions about the new STC’s; first are closed establishments really needed at all for the age group for whom they were originally intended, 12-14 year olds. Second even if they are, do we really need a new set of institutions? Building on the network of local authority secure units would be a much better solution. Finally I asked whether there might be dangers in involving the private sector both because it introduces a pro- custodial dynamic into the system and limits, because of commercial confidentiality , limits the dissemination of good practice.
18 years on,all three seem reasonable points still, but perhaps the most relevant question came at the end of the piece. Is this really a good use of public money? Would it not be better to invest the £50m into strengthening community based measures and incentivising local agencies to reduce the demand for custody? Taylor now has the opportunity to recommend stricter criteria for custody and shorter custodial terms as well as a more creative community based measures. The government should plan to close Medway in July and fund these instead.