MTCnovo begins running UK child jail

MTCnovo takes over the running of Rainsbrook secure training centre, in Northamptonshire, today (5 May). This is a prison for children aged 12 to 17 years.

The contract to run Rainsbrook was formerly held by the multinational G4S, which ran the prison from 1999.

In April 2004, 15 year-old Gareth Myatt died after being restrained in a seated position; the three G4S custody officers ignored his cries that he couldn’t breathe. He was admitted to Rainsbrook on a Friday and died the following Monday. During the inquest into Gareth’s death, it was discovered that G4S restraint trainers had nicknames such as Clubber, Mauler, Crusher and Breaker.

Last year, three inspectorates issued a damning report on the centre. Their criticisms included children being subject to degrading treatment, and racism and drug-taking among G4S officers. A child who suffered a broken bone during restraint was denied hospital treatment for 15 hours. Despite the intervention of Sir Martin Narey, who was then a G4S consultant and undertook a separate review of the centre, and praised its care of children, the multinational lost the contract last autumn.

This will be MTCnovo’s first contract to run a prison in the UK. Carolyne Willow, Article 39’s Director, says:

“It is simply mind-boggling that the government has transferred the care of deeply vulnerable children from a multinational with a sinking reputation, to a company that appears to have no experience at all in looking after children in a residential setting. It is to be assumed that MTC’s history of running prisons in the US clinched the contract for MTCnovo. Yet human rights campaigners there have highlighted a catalogue of concerns and, in any case, expertise in child care should trump being able to hold children in captivity.”

MTCnovo is a profit-making company, formed through a partnership between the US-based firm MTC and several UK private and voluntary organisations. MTC itself has more than 60 contracts to run prisons, education, health care and probation – mostly in the US, but also in Egypt and the UK. The company has been subject to a great deal of criticism in the US for its failure to protect prisoners.

In June 2015, a court continued a legal order which means the Walnut Grove correctional facility in Mississippi will be under judicial supervision until 2017. Although MTC was not in charge when the first order was issued, three years after it took control of the prison the court found “ongoing violations”:

“While giving due credit to Defendants for the significant improvements made at Walnut Grove, the Court nonetheless finds that current and ongoing violations of the Eighth Amendment exist at the facility. In order to adhere to its constitutional duty to the inmates, the Court cannot ignore the persistent threat to inmate safety.”

Back in November 2015, together with the Howard League for Penal Reform and INQUEST, Article 39 wrote to the Chair of the Youth Justice Board, Lord McNally. We expressed our concern that MTC is under judicial supervision in respect of Walnut Grove correctional facility, and highlighted other serious allegations of abuse, neglect and failure to protect.

Article 39 will continue to monitor Rainsbrook secure training centre, though this will be impeded by the exclusion of private companies from the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Read our letter to Lord McNally, and the response from Lin Hinnigan, the Youth Justice Board’s Chief Executive.