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Closure on cards for children’s “prison”

Closure on cards for children’s “prison”

Tuesday 24 September 2019

Closure on cards for children’s “prison”


An “outdated” and “prison-like” secure unit for children, which was revealed to have recently held a young man "alone" for a significant period before he was moved to jail at 18, is facing closure and demolition.

Instead, the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry Panel is urging the government to move all residential childcare out of the Greenfields site and for it to be knocked down and turned into “small homely units."

The recommendation came following a check-up on the island’s childcare and fostering provisions two years after the panel published a damning report exposing 60 years of failings.

Having highlighted the need to move the youth justice system to a welfare-based model rather than the traditional punitive one, the Panel was “pleased” to hear a Youth Justice Review had been commissioned. The Panel however disagreed with some aspects of the review - namely the positive view they took of the Greenfields facility.

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Pictured: The Independent Jersey Care Inquiry Panel released the results of their two-year review yesterday.

During their visit to the secure unit, the Panel said they had been seriously concerned to see one individual at the facility, who “had been there alone for some time and who would be moved to HMP La Moye later in the year when he reached the age of 18."

“We consider that, even with good care providers, detaining a single individual in a closed environment is oppressive and unacceptable practice,” the Panel wrote.

They recommended that “urgent consideration” be given to developing “less oppressive” ways of dealing with young offenders, noting: “Greenfields, by the very nature of its design is, in our view, an oppressive and outdated prison-like environment unsuitable for young people.” 

The Panel voiced further concerns over the fact that the site houses two residential units for children. “Whilst these are now providing care for small groups of children in a homely interior environment, externally they are part of a secure unit campus,” they said. “This undermines the philosophy of providing a homely, welcoming setting for children indistinguishable from other homes.” 

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Pictured: The panel said a secure unit campus is not suitable for the care of children.

The Panel added that the history of the site could also lead to “poor associations of the homes” for some families. One of the units was previously Les Chênes, where children were allegedly beaten, kept from seeing their families and placed in solitary confinement for weeks at a time.

Opened in 1979 and running until the 2000s, Les Chênes was supposed to be a residential home for children with a remand function. However, the Care Inquiry report noted that all residents – whether young offenders or not – were, “in effect, serving sentences” there

A redress scheme was launched earlier this year allowing former residents of Les Chênes secure school, children’s homes or foster care to claim between £500 and £70,000 for inappropriate physical treatment, including sexual abuse

The panel has therefore recommended to move all residential child care away from Greenfields, describing the building has “entirely unsuitable for the care and welfare of distressed children and young people".

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Pictured: The Panel recommended Greenfields be demolished.

They went as far as suggesting the building be demolished, suggesting that it would not be “capable of being transformed into a more appropriate facility".

“A population of the size of Jersey does not require this type or scale of secure facility,” they added. “Although the building is relatively new, it should be demolished and replaced with small homely units within which close support can be provided when necessary.” 

The Children’s Minister, Senator Sam Mézec, who has previously visited the facility to understand how children are processed there, confirmed to Express that the Government is reviewing the facility and has “money put aside” in its plan for a feasibility. If approved by the States Assembly, the Government Plan will see £3.75m used for a review of the site.

“I think the view that they’ve expressed that the service and the facilities there aren’t appropriate is absolutely the right one,” Senator Mézec said. “As a government, we’ve committed to moving away from a punitive youth justice model towards a welfare-based model and that facility, as things stand, is not appropriately built for that.

“It’s a helpful recommendation that gives us food for thought about how we can improve it and we recognise that it does need improvement.”

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Pictured: Senator Sam Mézec, the Children's Minister, agreed with the Panel's opinion on Greenfields.

The Council of Ministers has, in fact, already been discussing the future of Greenfields during meetings. However, the Minister said the Council is yet to settle on a final decision.

“One option is not to demolish it entirely, but to repurpose it. I think some preliminary thinking has gone on that suggests that could happen and that there would be a better education focus being delivered from that site, but that is just an option at this point,” he explained.

Senator Mézec said the government will “reflect” on this latest report from the Care Inquiry Panel before working out what is the most appropriate use for Greenfields. He however said a balance would have to be struck to avoid having to send young people off-island in case of serious incidents.

“We don’t want to be in the situation where, if there was a particularly bad incident and there would have to be secure facilities, we wouldn’t want to be looking at sending people off-island which would be even more expensive and detrimental to their situation,” he said. 

“Getting a balance is something we have got to think about and how we do it best. But the model underpinning will be one that is based on the welfare of that young person and not what it has been previously and that’s a positive development and it’s progressive as well.”

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Pictured: Notorious children's home Haut de la Garenne.

Greenfields isn't the only place the IJCI Panel said they wished to be demolished.

In their report published yesterday, they reiterated their belief that Haut de la Garenne - a former children's home described as a "house of horrors" due to its history of abuse - should be torn down, despite acknowledging that the public view was against this due to its current use as an activity centre.

"We note that it is proposed that the building continues to be used as an activity centre for groups, including children. We also note that it has been said that 'it was not the building that abused the children'," the panel stated.

"It was, nonetheless, aspects of the design of Haut de la Garenne which made some of the abuse possible to conceal. The building was designed as a Victorian institution without thought to the safety and protection of the young residents. Unless there is very substantial redesign of the current building, it is our view that it continues to be a site in which supervision and protection of children from harm is difficult."

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