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Sheppey school bosses to take over Medway Young Offenders Centre

By John Nurden

The religious organisation which runs the Oasis Academy on the Isle of Sheppey is to take over Rochester's scandal-hit youth jail.

The Ministry of Justice has given Oasis Charitable Trust the £8.5 million job of turning Medway Young Offenders Centre into Britain's first 'secure school.'

G4S held the contract to run the centre from 1998 to 2016 when justice minister Michael Gove sacked them following a shocking undercover documentary broadcast by the BBC TV Panorama programme which featured secret footage of abuse.

Medway Secure Training Centre (13648372)
Medway Secure Training Centre (13648372)

The centre, based on the site of the world's first Borstal, will be closed and reopened in September 2020 following a £5m revamp.

It will have 64 places for boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 17 who are either sentenced to custody or held on remand.

Oasis founder Steve Chalke, a 63-year-old Baptist minister who was chairing the latest Sheppey Community Development Forum at the Minster campus, admitted it was a "huge challenge and an enormous responsibility" but said: "We believe in second chances.

"We believe every young person is capable of change and of making more positive choices about their life and their future.

"Our emphasis will be wholly on rehabilitation and restoration rather than retribution."

The Rev Steve Chalke at the Isle of Sheppey Oasis Academy
The Rev Steve Chalke at the Isle of Sheppey Oasis Academy

The school will be called Oasis Restore.

Young people at the centre will be called students, not prisoners or inmates.

They will live in houses, not wings. Their time will not be considered a sentence.

Mr Chalke said: "From the very beginning of their stay, we will work with some of the most disturbed kids in the country to begin their resettlement back into community.

"Youth jails don't work. Reoffending rates are 70%. Yet it costs five times as much to send a kid to Borstal than to Eton.

Medway Secure Training Centre when it was run by G4S (13649093)
Medway Secure Training Centre when it was run by G4S (13649093)

"This is a great opportunity for us to show that a Christian ethic produces a different result."

But Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform told the Morning Star: “I am very worried by the decision to award this contract to an organisation that seems to have a one-sided view of the world.

“I am similarly worried by the suggestion that a so-called ‘secure school’ is an answer to the problem."

And Carolyne Willow, the director of child rights group Article 39, warned: “Oasis Charitable Trust appears to lack any experience of looking after children in a residential setting.

"There are inevitable parallels with G4S and Serco being handed contracts to run secure training centres in the late 1990s without any relevant experience.

Justice Minister Edward Argar (13649769)
Justice Minister Edward Argar (13649769)

"Secure training centres were similarly marketed as centres of excellence in children’s education and care.

"Nothing I have seen or heard shows that the government has properly reflected on why children suffered so badly for so long in those institutions.”

Mr Chalke said: “Oasis has long provided housing for vulnerable young adults and over the past decade we have partnered with communities across the country providing education that has enabled many young people and their families to overcome the obstacles life has thrown at them and meet their potential.”

Justice Minister Edward Argar said: "I have been impressed by Oasis’s dedication to improving the lives of young people and its track record across education, health and youth work.

"Secure Schools are critical to our vision for youth custody, placing education, healthcare and purposeful activity at the heart of rehabilitation."

Panorama logo
Panorama logo

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "This is a major step towards delivering the Government’s commitment to put education at the heart of youth custody.

"Oasis provided a clear and ambitious vision and will be given complete autonomy to set the curriculum and timetable, and will decide how they recruit, train and pay staff.

"Three quarters of Oasis’ academies operate in the UK’s most deprived areas and most were rated by Ofsted as failing at the time they were taken over.

"The organisation has overseen a turnaround where 80% are now rated as good or outstanding."

Pupils will travel to the school from all parts of the country.

The government plans to open a second secure school in the north of England but no date or location has been released.

BBC Panorama programme filmed at Medway Secure Training Centre. 'Billy' tells the officer he can't breathe...
BBC Panorama programme filmed at Medway Secure Training Centre. 'Billy' tells the officer he can't breathe...

Four men accused of threatening and assaulting children at a youth jail were cleared in March 2018.

Anthony Dance, 28, Gareth Evans, 27, Matthew Cunningham, 37, and Christopher Lomax, 36, had been charged with misconduct in a public office.

Police investigated after BBC Panorama broadcast undercover footage of Medway Secure Training Centre after reporter Robert Padmore was given a job at the Rochester centre.

  • Oasis was founded 35 years ago and now has more than 7,000 staff working in 42 areas of England plus 26 units abroad in Europe, Asia and Africa. It is responsible for 52 schools, 30,000 students and more than 1,000 homeless or vulnerably housed young adults a year.

Read more: All the latest news from Sheerness

Read more: All the latest news from Medway

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