Urgent warning as children locked up for 23 and a half hours a day in youth prison with ‘spartan’ regime

Boy at youth jail in Rugby allowed just four hours out of his room over two weeks because he was placed on 'incorrect management plan’

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Friday 18 December 2020 14:34 GMT
Inspectors raised concern about continued poor care and leadership in Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre, as well as examples of youngsters held in what amounts to solitary confinement
Inspectors raised concern about continued poor care and leadership in Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre, as well as examples of youngsters held in what amounts to solitary confinement (Getty)

Inspectors have issued an urgent warning to a youth jail after it emerged children held there were being locked in cells for 23 and a half hours a day and subjected to a “spartan” regime.

Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre, which holds around 45 children between the ages of 12 and 18 and is run by private firm MTC, has been issued an “urgent notification” – used only when there are significant concerns about a prison - because of continued poor care and leadership and examples of youngsters held in what amounts to solitary confinement.

In October, the inspectorates found that, due to coronavirus health guidelines, newly admitted children – some as young as 15 – were being locked into their bedrooms for 14 days, and only allowed out for 30 minutes a day.

In a particularly shocking case, one boy was placed on an “incorrect management plan” due to miscommunications about his medical vulnerabilities, meaning that for two weeks he had a total of four hours out of his room.

Despite assurances that immediate action would be taken, a further monitoring visit to Rainsbrook in December found that little progress has been made, the inspectors said.

Ofsted, the Prison Inspectorate and the Care Quality Commission have now written a letter to the justice secretary warning that the children’s daily experiences at the facility were “bleak” and that they were given little encouragement to get up in the mornings or have any meaningful engagement with staff.

“We do not underestimate the challenges that the Covid-19 pandemic presents for the leaders and staff at Rainsbrook STC. However, this does not excuse the failings the inspectorates have found,” the letter states.

“We have decided to invoke the UN process because of the continued poor care experienced by children, the lack of leadership grip and lack of oversight of practice by local and national leaders.”

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector, urged prison leaders and the government to “act now” to address the issues, saying: “Rainsbrook was warned that its treatment of newly admitted children was unacceptable, yet these concerns have been ignored.  

“Some of the most vulnerable children are being locked up for days on end, with little thought about their safety or well-being.”

Charlie Taylor, HM Inspectorate of Prisons’ chief inspector, said: it was “astonishing” that in spite of the watchdog’s original findings, the Youth Custody Service and the Centre had continued to allow children to be held in what amounted to solitary confinement, despite claiming it was no longer the case.

Rosie Benneyworth, chief inspector of primary medical services and integrated care at CQC, said the decision to issue a UN was “not taken lightly.

“While the reasons for taking this step do not relate specifically to the healthcare provision at Rainsbrook STC, we are concerned about the impact that these issues are having on the well-being of children and young people at the service.

“It is important that the concerns found by Ofsted, HMIP and the CQC are acted on to improve the care, safety and well-being of children at this STC.”

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said children at Rainsbrook were “in danger”, and suggested that, if it is possible before Christmas and if it can be done safely, they should be given executive release.

"Rainsbrook has been appalling for years and it should be closed. It is shocking that a private company is profiting from treating children so badly,” she added.

A spokesperson for MTC said they recognised the “severity” of the urgent notification and remained committed to “strengthening and improving” their work at the centre.

“Following Ofsted’s initial recommendations, we immediately installed new leadership and implemented measures to improve and strengthen governance and management oversight at the centre,” they said.

“Over the past four years, MTC has committed significant investment into Rainsbrook STC, investing in employee training, new ICT systems and introducing new management disciplines.

“We recognise there is more work to do to improve the centre and we do accept more should have been done during this challenging period. We understand what changes we need to make to ensure this does not happen again.”

Justice Minister, Lucy Frazer MP said the findings were “incredibly concerning and disappointing, particularly as MTC gave repeated assurances that they would act on previous warnings”.

She added: “We have immediately stopped placing young people at Rainsbrook and have appointed additional, experienced management staff to oversee the swift and thorough improvements we are demanding.”

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