Rainsbrook G4S youth prison: The history of a 'ghetto' institution

In the six months before the Ofsted inspection, there was an average of eight assaults a month and 27 fights at the centre

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The Independent Online

In 2004, 15-year-old Gareth Myatt’s refusal to clean a toasted sandwich maker resulted in his death inside Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre. The teenager, who was only 4ft 10in tall and weighted six and a half stone, was forcibly restrained by three adult guards after protesting about being locked in his room as punishment.

For six or seven minutes, the guards employed a technique known as the “Seated Double Embrace”, which resulted in the teenager becoming breathless before choking to death on his own vomit. He was only three days into a 12-month sentence before becoming the first child to die while being restrained in custody.

At a subsequent inquest his death was ruled accidental, but the jury’s narrative verdict also stated that the Youth Justice Board’s (YJB) failure to test the restraint technique had been a contributing factor in what happened to him. The inquest judge wrote a 17-page letter to Jack Straw, the then Justice Secretary, telling him it would be “wholly unforgivable and a double tragedy” if lessons were not learned.

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An aerial view of Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre in Northamptonshire

The restraint technique that led to Gareth’s death was subsequently banned, but 11 years on, Rainsbrook has again attracted attention for the wrong reasons. Deborah Coles, co-director of the charity INQUEST, said the damning Ofsted report into the centre showed that the YJB had broken its promise to keep a close eye on how it was being run.

“Assurances were made that the culture and practices would be changed and yet the abuses continue,” she said. “It begs the question as to whether these publicly-funded but privately run organisations can ever be held properly to account.”

Rainsbrook, which opened in 1999, is a modern secure complex of buildings near Rugby designed specifically to house offenders aged between 12 and 17. According to Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, who toured the centre several years after Gareth’s death, it has the feel of “a ghetto, in the original sense of the word”.

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Frances Crook, of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said it was the ‘worst report on prisons’ she had seen

“It’s small, enclosed, very claustrophobic,” she said. “The kids couldn’t play football when I was there, because they weren’t allowed to have ten children all together in case they had a riot. When the children sit and eat, they aren’t allowed to get up to get their own food. It’s so obsessively secure…their normal childhood is shut down.”

When Ofsted has visited in the past, Rainsbrook has always been rated as “good” or “outstanding”. But inspectors said the management of inmates had “deteriorated” over the last 12 months, pointing to high staff turnover and painting a picture of inexperienced guards looking after some of the country’s most challenging young people.

In the six months before the inspection, there was an average of eight assaults a month and 27 fights at the centre. More than half of the young offenders surveyed by Ofsted said they had faced insulting remarks from other inmates, while more than a quarter said they had felt intimidated and threatened at some stage.

Inspectors did say that Rainsbrook’s education programme was working well, writing that “behaviour was particularly well managed” in the centre’s classrooms. They added that the young offenders, many of whom had not attended school for long periods, appeared to enjoy the experience of learning.

Rainsbrook is one of three purpose-built Secure Training Centres run by G4S on behalf of the YJB, the others being Medway in Kent and Oakhill in Milton Keynes. The outsourcing giant is paid £11.4m a year to run Rainsbrook, but the contract is due to be put up for re-tender in November next year.