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Care Inquiry: Young offenders are not "little villains"

Care Inquiry: Young offenders are not

Wednesday 05 July 2017

Care Inquiry: Young offenders are not "little villains"

Wednesday 05 July 2017


Jersey's Care Inquiry report shows that the Island currently holds more secure accommodation for child offenders than a major UK city nearly five times the size. Servicing a population of little over 100,000, Greenfields has 11 beds, while Edinburgh - a city of around 496,000 people - provides for only nine places.

The report says that Jersey authorities repeatedly prioritised “control and containment” of “marginalised” children rather than focusing on their welfare.

Examining failings in local care institutions over a period of more than half a century, the Panel accused the Island of harbouring a deep “cultural malaise” with young offenders, suggesting that there was a preference that they remained out of sight in an institution such as Greenfields youth remand centre, rather than addressing background issues that may have led them down that path.

An independent review in 2008 blasted Jersey’s approach to child custody, claiming that there was “far too high a level” and that it should be “eliminated”. But the Care Inquiry Panel noted that, nine years later, nothing had changed.

The attitude appeared to persist from years of issues harking back to the remand centre’s earlier days known as Les Chênes, which originally opened as a secure children’s school/remand centre hybrid in 1978 before later becoming Greenfields in 2003.

Over a period of more than 30 years, the Care Inquiry Panel revealed a shocking history of riots, excessive use of solitary confinement, and emotionally abusive 'awards' regimes at the often overpopulated and financially burdened institute.

The Panel heard that little distinction was made between the centre’s residents - a mixture of children in care and those on remand - with all subject to the same treatment despite their backgrounds.

Children were subjected to arduous chores each day in a bid to win enough ‘points’ to be able to visit their families on the weekend. Favouritism tainted the system, however, with some children having their points - and therefore their right to see their families - stripped at the inconsistent whim of staff who apparently seemed to “enjoy” doing so. One child was unable to visit home for six months due to the punitive system. Another stated that it amounted to “mental torture.” 

Another highly-criticised punishment was the use of ‘secure cells’ - locked rooms featuring no more than a vinyl mattress, which Jersey was found to have used far more heavily than in other jurisdictions.

Greenfields youth crime young offender

Pictured: One previous employee at Greenfields Secure School told the Inquiry that there was a "culture of fear" at the institution. (Google Maps)

Children would be subjected to what was effectively solitary confinement stretching from hours to weeks, sometimes over apparently petty misdemeanours, including not washing the dishes quickly enough. From the 2000s onwards, these were used with increasing frequency. One former resident complained of being locked away for around two months, while another spent nine months in isolation in 2004.

It became common practice to make new children “acclimatise” to their new residence through the use of cells, especially if they had been involved in drugs. But it was claimed that some staff had perpetuated this illegal habit. Two residents said that they had been supplied in 2003, leading to the suspension and eventual conviction of a staff member. 

As recently as the early 2000s, staff complained of being “stretched” and struggling to deal with the demands of an increasing intake, which resulted in the centre “regularly exceeding the maximum occupancy level.” However, there was “no financial support” to buy in the additional qualified workers needed to cope. 

“I would say that the Principal and I were working 70, 80, sometimes 90 hours a week trying to cover shifts that could not be covered in any other way,” former Deputy Principal Peter Waggot commented.

The overcrowding was the result of Magistrates continuing to send children across from Youth Court, even when there were no available beds.

In the case of one offender in 2001, the Magistrate repeatedly maintained that the child should not be granted bail and instead sent to Les Chênes, despite recommendations that probation and anger management classes would be sufficient. 

magistrates_court.jpg

Pictured: Magistrates were found to have been too keen to send the children they allegedly viewed as "little villains" to Greenfields, rather than considering alternative options.

According to the report, such children on the Island were viewed as “little villains” and treated as such. However there was little evidence to suggest that this approach secured positive outcomes for children, with more than 60% of children leaving Les Chênes eventually entering La Moye adult prison.

“We are under no illusion as to the management issues posed by individual young people placed on remand at Les Chênes at this juncture, but we consider that there was a failure of agencies – the school, the Director of Education, the Probation Service, Children’s Services and the Courts – to work together constructively and decisively. The result was disastrous for staff and residents at Les Chênes alike,” the report said.

“Children in Jersey do not have a voice - or, at least, not one that is taken seriously or respected." 

If this does not change and the Panel’s recommendations are not adopted, the report warned that children in Jersey across the care spectrum, “…may still be at risk.”

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