Kent Church threatens legal action to protect children from solitary confinement

A Kent church is calling for the Ministry of Justice to immediately end the illegal solitary confinement of children in Rainsbrook secure training centre otherwise they will seek such protection from the High Court.

“Children have been locked in solitary confinement for up to 23½ hours a day. No child should be locked up unlawfully and every child has the right to education” says the Rev’d Nathan Ward.

“We cannot stand by and watch children being mistreated this way. The Ministry of Justice has systematically failed for months, and the Secretary of State must take urgent remedial action.”

St Margaret’s Church has instructed solicitors at Irwin Mitchell LLP to write to the Ministry of Justice over the failures at Rainsbrook secure training centre near Rugby which is contracted to detain children as young as 12 years old.

Faith Salih, solicitor at Irwin Mitchell, commented:

“The Ofsted letter dated 16 December 2020 makes it clear that the COVID-19 pandemic does not excuse the failings that inspectors have found at Rainsbrook. It is clear that serious concerns previously notified to the Ministry of Justice and the Secure Training Centre have not been rectified, with the result that children have been spending significant time in isolation in their cells and deprived of education and the additional support they need. We call upon the Secretary of State to publicly confirm the steps that have been taken as a result of the Ofsted letter and that these children are no longer being kept in solitary confinement and are being given access to in-person education. Without humane and supportive care arrangements, rehabilitation of children in custody will not be achieved and the safety and wellbeing of these children is jeopardised.”

The Vicar of St Margaret’s, the Rev’d Nathan Ward, says the inspectorates’ findings are damning and should have led to immediate remedial action by the government, but there has been little response:

“It’s just not enough to speak of sending a team in to look at things. These latest findings are not the first systematic failures at Rainsbrook; the ongoing violation of the rights of some of the most vulnerable children in our society is an absolute scandal and it isn’t enough simply to send in civil servants. Children must be properly cared for now, before further damage is done. We are taking this action to try and ensure no child is kept in solitary confinement unlawfully over Christmas and beyond.”

Carolyne Willow, Director of children’s rights charity Article 39, said:

“The law requires that the director of Rainsbrook secure training centre carries out their duties with the welfare of children uppermost. Locking vulnerable children in a tiny room for 23½ hours a day for a two-week period plainly flouts this fundamental protection. The Ministry of Justice funds MTCNovo to detain children, and must be held responsible for allowing this abusive treatment. In July, Ministers overnight changed the legal rules governing these centres without any consultation with the Children’s Commissioner or others concerned with the rights and interests of vulnerable children. We commend St Margaret’s Church for taking this action, and will support them as much as we can.”

Last month, Article 39 successfully challenged the Department for Education’s removal and dilution of 65 safeguards for children in care. The Court of Appeal found that Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, had acted unlawfully in failing to consult the Children’s Commissioner and other children’s rights organisations before making “substantial and wide-ranging” changes to children’s legal protections.

In November 2015, Article 39 wrote to the Youth Justice Board, which was then in charge of contracting secure training centres, expressing serious concerns about MTCNovo taking over the running of Rainsbrook. Last week’s urgent notification letter from Ofsted’s Chief Inspector notes that, “Since 2015 every joint inspection has judged the centre as ‘requires improvement to be good’ with the effectiveness of leaders and managers being judged ‘inadequate’ on two occasions”.