Category: Rainsbrook STC

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.

Rainsbrook STC “requires improvement”

An Ofsted inspection of Rainsbrook secure training centre, which detains children between the ages of 12 and 17, as well as some 18 year-olds, has concluded it “requires improvement”.

The inspection of the G4S-run prison took place in September 2015, several months after inspectors rated its safety and overall effectiveness as “inadequate”.

Although the safety of children had improved since the last inspection, the effectiveness of management was criticised because there had been two incidents of serious misconduct by senior staff. One of the incidents had been left unchallenged, even though other staff were present. Inspectors were made aware of it only through audio recording on a body camera (which suggests it was a restraint incident).

The room used for searching children was described by inspectors as “stark” and a window was left uncovered:

“Although no-one can see into the room through this window, new arrivals are unlikely to know this, and the thought of undressing in front of an uncovered window could provoke anxiety in some young people.”

There had been three full searches – where children are made to remove all of their clothes – since the last inspection, and many routine ‘dignity searches’ (a description of these is not provided).

There was poor recording of the use of handcuffs, so inspectors were unable to check whether children had, for example, been handcuffed when “having a consultation with a medical professional”.

As is routine with inspections undertaken by the prisons inspectorate, a survey of children was carried out. Physical abuse and sexual abuse by other children was reported by 9 and 2 children respectively. One-third of the survey respondents said they had suffered ‘shout-outs’, a form of abuse endemic in custodial institutions whereby prisoners shout demeaning insults and threats from their cell windows. Five and three children reported physical and sexual abuse by staff respectively. None of this abuse is discussed in the main body of the report.

The time children arrive at Rainsbrook is outside the control of the prison. The Youth Justice Board contracts Serco to transport children to and from secure training centres, including to hospital appointments and court hearings. On first admission, inspectors found 21% of children had arrived late at night, some after midnight.

The management of Rainsbrook secure training centre is currently being transferred to MTCnovo. Last month, Article 39 and others raised concerns with the Youth Justice Board about MTC’s track record of running adult prisons in the United States.

Read the inspection report.

Charities seek reassurances about MTCnovo

In a letter to Lord McNally, the Chair of the Youth Justice Board, Article 39, the Howard League for Penal Reform and INQUEST say we are “deeply troubled” that MTCnovo, the company taking over the management of Rainsbrook secure training centre, appears to have no experience of looking after vulnerable children in a residential setting. Information we have been able to collate about MTC’s management of adult prisons in the United States is “disturbing”.

We seek the following reasurances:

  • During the contracting process, was the Youth Justice Board made aware of the judicial and civil society concerns in the US we outline in respect of adult prisons managed by MTC?
  • What professional qualifications will MTCnovo managers and staff be required to have?
  • What ratio of staff to children will be followed during weekday and weekend shifts?
  • Will there be any change to the numbers of children held in Rainsbrook?
  • We understand the YJB monitor has been maintaining closer scrutiny of Rainsbrook since February’s inspection; will this continue during and after the transition to MTCnovo management?
  • Will MTCnovo be required contractually to notify all restraint injuries, every use of strip-searching and all child protection allegations to the local authority, consistent with the guidance issued last year by the Association of Independent Chairs of Local Safeguarding Children Boards and the NSPCC?
  • Will the company permit access to Rainsbrook by interested groups such as ourselves and welcome external scrutiny?
  • Will it respond to Freedom of Information requests, since its work with children will be completely funded by the taxpayer?
  • Finally, has provision been made in the five-year contract for early termination should it be found that children have not been properly cared for, and protected, at Rainsbrook?

Letter to Lord McNally


Questions about company taking over Rainsbrook STC

Four months after a damning inspection report, which said safeguarding was inadequate in G4S-run Rainsbrook secure training centre, the government announced MTCnovo would be handed the contract to run the child prison.

MTCnovo is a partnership between MTC, which manages 25 correctional facilities in the United States, and the UK-based company Amey. The contract transfer is expected to take five months.

On 5 October, Labour Peer and former Chair of the Local Government Association, Lord Beecham, asked the government what experience MTCnovo has of looking after vulnerable children.

Today’s reply suggests the company has very little, if any, experience of running children’s residential establishments:

Lord Beecham asked: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in relation to the decision to award MTCNovo the contract to run Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre, what assessment they have made of the experience that company has in running residential establishments that care for vulnerable children; and whether MTCNovo, including its partners or significant subcontractors, has been found to have breached human rights or equality legislation in the last three years, either in the United Kingdom or abroad.

Justice Minister, Lord Faulks, replied: MTC and their main partner Amey were subject to robust and rigorous assessment at the pre-qualification stage of the competition. This included a thorough examination of health and safety, equalities, human rights and discrimination policies, and a requirement to demonstrate their experience of managing children and young people. There were no findings of a breach in human rights or equality legislation.

Fifteen year-old Gareth Myatt died in Rainsbrook secure training centre in April 2004, after being held down by three officers using the ‘seated double embrace’ restraint technique. The officers ignored the boy’s cries that he couldn’t breathe. The restraint incident started because he refused to clean a sandwich toaster that other boys had also used. A mixed race child, Gareth weighed just 6½ stone and stood less than five feet tall. Subsequent investigations found this and the three other secure training centres were running unlawful restraint regimes.

Carolyne Willow, Article 39’s Director, says:

“With Rainsbrook secure training centre having such a dreadful child protection record, it is imperative that ministers are transparent about whether MTCnovo has the expertise and ethos required to look after vulnerable children. Moving the contract from G4S to another provider should have been, first and foremost, about ensuring the protection and well-being of children, many of whom are held great distances from home. Lord Faulks’s opaque statement is unacceptable given the background of widespread physical abuse in this institution.”  

Restraint research published

The Youth Justice Board has published research it commissioned in 2013 on the use of head-holds in child prisons. Twenty-two adults studying at Coventry University, aged between 18 and 24, volunteered to have their heart and lung function tested in a laboratory whilst they were subject to 12 different head-holds. The psychological impact on the students was also recorded.

The researchers recommend that children be held in as upright position as possible, since head-holds at a 70 degree angle were found to be more uncomfortable than a 30 degree angle. They also warn about the risks of children’s mouths being “held closed” during this type of restraint, and say the dangers should be emphasised in training.

In April 2004, 15 year-old Gareth Myatt died whilst being subject to the ‘seated double embrace’ form of restraint then authorised for use on children in secure training centres and immigration detention. A mixed race child, Gareth had been looked after by his local authority on five separate occasions and was very vulnerable. He weighed around 41kg and was just 1.5 metres tall. The three G4S officers holding him down at Rainsbrook secure training centre ignored his cries that he couldn’t breathe.