Call Out for Actions Against Youth Prisons – September 2017
The Empty Cages Collective is calling for actions in solidarity with the Australian campaign against youth prisons, Shut Youth Prisons Mparntwe.
First nations people and non-Indigenous people from around Australia have called for an International Week of Action at the end of September to shut youth prisons and end deaths in custody. We want to strengthen their action and bolster their message, whilst also raising awareness about the traumatic reality of our own youth prison system.
What you can do:
- You can get involved by organising an action in your area
- Or take part in one of the many actions taking place across the country (to be announced shortly)
- Raise awareness about Youth Prisons, Secure Training Centres and the school to prison pipeline.
- Read our upcoming articles on the state of UK Youth Prisons, and share them in your networks.
If you’d like more info on how to get involved, leaflets for the day, or support for setting up an action, get in touch with email@example.com
The Situation in Australia
Aboriginal and non-indigenous campaigners in Australia have called for an International Week of Action against Youth Prisons and Deaths in Custody. The week of action has been called for the end of September (Sept 25th – 30th) and will culminate in blockades of major infrastructure and central business districts across the country.
Indigenous Australians are the most heavily incarcerated people on earth (1). Despite being recorded at only 3% of the general population of Australia, aboriginal people are represented at over 28% of the prison population. This is a population share which continues to increase year on year (2). Half of all those incarcerated in youth detention centres are aboriginal, under conditions internationally condemned as dehumanising and systematically abusive.
In July 2016, ABC TV’s Four Corners broadcast a documentary report on the conditions of these facilities. They aired footage of youths being beaten, restrained, tear gassed, stripped naked, forced to wear spit-hoods and detained in extensive periods of isolation. Following the report, the Australian Federal government initiated a Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory. The Commission’s results, and the measures recommended for implementation to address the situation, will be released this September. This month also marks the anniversary of the deaths of Wayne “Fella” Morrison and John Pat, both aboriginal Australians murdered by prison staff.
There have been over 355 deaths in custody since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody released its report in 1991. The genocide of aboriginal Australians is not a matter resigned to the past but an active project, daily perpetuated, which continues to establish the most basic precondition for the existence of the Australian settler colony. A state premised upon anti-blackness and indigenous erasure cannot be relied upon to address either of those realities.
The demands of the action are:
- shut youth prisons
- end deaths in custody
- to bring them home
- to make surveillance footage available at all inquests on demand
- to ban the use of spithoods and restraints nationally
Watch the call out:
The Situation in the UK
In the UK there are three types of youth imprisonment. Secure Children’s Homes are run by local councils for children aged 10 to 14. Young Offender Institutions (YOIs) are for young people aged 15 to 21. Those under 18 are held in separate institutions. Many YOIs are also part of adult prisons. There are 26 prisons in total across England, Wales, and Scotland that hold 18-21 year olds. Young adults (aged 18 – 24) make up 17% of the prison population with more than 14,932 imprisoned (3).
Secure Training Centres (STCs) are for children aged up to 17. As of June 2017, there are 924 children in prison in England and Wales. Until July 2016, all of the Secure Training Centres were run by private companies.
In January 2016, Medway Secure Training Centre was exposed by BBC Panorama. The documentary showed staff members punching a child in the ribs and slapping another child in the face. Also on film were Staff allegedly boasting of their worst mistreatments of young people, it is claimed, which reportedly included using a fork to stab one child in the leg and another who made a child cry uncontrollably. The STC, run for years by G4S, was taken over by the state yet recent inspection reports show little has changed.
Oakhill Secure Training Centre remains the last STC managed by G4S. A company called Working Links is tipped to take over the contract. The last inspection report of Oakhill showed high levels of violence and use of force. Inspectors were also concerned about one child that lived in healthcare and had less than 15 minutes in the open air each day (4).
The third Secure Training Centre is Rainsbrook. In the last inspection report, published in August 2017, Inspectors said 48% of the children they surveyed had reported being restrained by staff at Rainsbrook. Over 500 violent incidents were recorded in a six-month period in a prison that locks up 58 children.
Following the Medway expose, G4S relinquished control of the Rainsbrook and a contract was awarded to MTCnovo limited, who began operating the centre in May 2016. MTCnovo are part of MTC (Management and Training Corporation) in the US who operate more than 22 ‘correctional facilities,’ which means prisons and detention centres across the country.
Child imprisonment is racialised – 43% of children in custody come from a black or minority ethnic background (5). 42% of Muslim children in YOIs also said they had been victimised by staff (6). In addition, This does not include the many more children held in for-profit detention centres across the UK.
Children from care make up 39% of children in Secure Training Centres and 37% of young adults in young offender institutions, despite only 1% of children in England being in care. Children entering the prison system are those that have already experienced trauma – whether it is deaths of parents, physical, emotional or sexual abuse, or simply enduring poverty. Despite the capitalist media-framed narrative of ‘ASBO nation’, ‘yobs’ and ‘hoodies’, nearly a third of children in custody in 2015–16 were there for non-violent crimes.
Since 2000, 307 young people have died in prison custody, with more than 277 of those deaths self-inflicted (7).
Whether run for profit or managed by the state, children’s prisons will remain centres of violence and warehouses of suffering until they are closed for good. In the words of Carolyn Willow, author of Children behind bars: Why the abuse of child imprisonment must end:
“There will always be a small number of children whose behaviour is so chaotic, risky and disturbed that time in a protective environment is necessary. However, just as we would not expect a phlebotomist to carry out open-heart surgery, we cannot pretend prisons are capable of dealing with the childhood traumas and difficulties that catapult a very small number of children into very dangerous and self-destructive behaviour. And we must recognise the limitations of any kind of institution in changing a child’s life – for this, skilled support has to be given to their families (or carers if they are looked after), schools and colleges, and a vast number of community resources – material, social and psychological – have to be gathered around the child.” (8).
3. Monthly Youth Custody Report.xls
5. Table 1 and 6, Youth Justice Board (2017) Monthly youth custody report—March 2017, London: Youth Justice Board
6. Appendix B6, HM Inspectorate of Prisons (2016) Children in custody 2015–16, London: HM Stationery Office
8. Willow, Carolyne. Children behind bars: Why the abuse of child imprisonment must end. Policy Press.