A NEW REPORT LAYS BARE THE EXTENT OF FAILINGS at Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre near Rugby, England, currently run by a private company, MTC.

Inspectors found poor practice was placing children and staff at risk of harm, as well as failing to give vulnerable children adequate care and support. The report was produced jointly by Ofsted, HMI Prisons and the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

Children and staff told inspectors of their concerns that a child or adult would be harmed or die as a result of poor practice and management in the centre. The report describes a ‘volatile culture’ where children carry weapons ‘just in case’.

While children felt cared for by most staff, many said they lived in an environment where they felt anxious and unsafe. Children told inspectors “Of course we are not safe. That’s just how it is” and “Somebody is going to die in here soon.” This was echoed by staff, who said they feared for their own safety as well as children’s.

Inadequate staffing levels placed staff in ‘an impossible position’ and unable to care for children safely, with staff resorting to leaving children unsupervised and locking them in their rooms in order to take a break.

Inspectors also found:

  • Children are not always taken to planned healthcare appointments on time, if at all, and sometimes are not given prescribed medication. One child, who health staff suspected had a head injury, was not taken to hospital to be assessed.
  • Education is weak – children are not given access to a timetable and often do not know what lessons they would be doing on a given day. Instances of aggression in the classroom take too long to de-escalate, leading to an unsafe learning environment.
  • Conditions at the centre are poor in some areas. Staff had failed to notice that an unused child’s room had faeces in the toilet, resulting in a fetid, unpleasant smell in the living unit, while elsewhere inspectors found gang-related graffiti on walls.
  • Staff lack skill and experience, leading to unsafe practice. There is too little oversight from leaders, with staff telling inspectors that they didn’t feel supported, and that poor practice is not readily identified or challenged.
  • There is a disconnect between the senior leadership team and centre-wide staff. Staff and children told inspectors that the director – the third since the last full inspection – is not sufficiently visible.

The findings follow a series of negative inspection outcomes for the centre. After visits in October and December last year highlighted serious concerns – including children being kept in their rooms for up to 23.5 hours a day – the inspectorates issued an Urgent Notification (UN), requiring the Ministry of Justice to set out an action plan for improvement at the centre. While a monitoring visit in January this year showed some improvements, a second UN in June highlighted further serious issues.

There are no children currently living at the centre after the Ministry of Justice ordered their removal in June, but the centre remains open.

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, said: “Today’s report reveals a litany of failures. Rainsbrook has once more fallen drastically short in caring for especially vulnerable children, despite being warned about poor practice last year. These children need the highest quality training, care and support to get their lives back on track. It’s vital that there is long-term, sustainable improvement at the centre.”

Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “In spite of the previous concerns we raised in our visits to this centre, it remained a place where children, some very damaged, were neither being kept safe, supported nor given the boundaries and education that they need in order to go on to lead successful adult lives.”

Dr Rosie Benneyworth, Chief Inspector of Primary Medical Services and Integrated Care at CQC said: “In a setting such as this, the interplay between health care staff and the centre staff is vital to making sure that children get the care they deserve. It can only happen if both are supported, trained and able to perform their complementary roles in enabling and providing care. Sadly, along with concerns about their general treatment and wellbeing, we saw that vulnerable children did not always have their health care needs met and they were exposed to unnecessary risk at Rainsbrook. When the joint inspectorates visited in June, there was much to be addressed before this service could safely provide care in the future.”

The Howard League for Penal Reform opposed the creation of secure training centres in the 1990s, when they were introduced alongside the Detention and Training Order, a short prison sentence for children followed by supervision in the community. The charity warned that children placed in secure training centres would be damaged and hurt. It has called repeatedly for Rainsbrook to be closed.

Rainsbrook is now run by MT, and was previously operated by G4S. In April 2004, a 15-year-old boy, Gareth Myatt, died after being restrained there.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “No child should ever be placed in Rainsbrook again. For decades, boys and girls have been harmed and abused while private companies have profited from their misery. It shames the nation that such cruelty has been allowed to continue for so long. Secure training centres are failed institutions that were designed for a failed sentence. It is time to scrap them both and ensure that children in trouble are given the care and support they need.”

* Read the report on Rainsbrook here.

* Sources: Her Majesty’s Inspector of Prisons, Ofsted, Howard League for Penal Reform