Report on Northants children's prison finds rise in violent incidents

Eric Allison
Inspectors found that the majority of staff at Rainsbrook had less than a year’s experience in their roles. Photograph: Rui Vieira/PA

Levels of violent incidents and use of force by staff have increased at a privately run child jail, according to a report by inspectors. The jail was sold off by G4S last year after allegations of abuse of children by staff were the subject of investigations by the BBC’s Panorama and the Guardian.

The report on Rainsbrook secure training centre (STC) in Northamptonshire, now run by US firm MTCnovo, revealed almost 500 violent incidents in a six-month period. This breaks down into an average of 40 assaults against young people, 36 assaults against staff and seven fights each month at the centre, which holds just 58 children.

Inspectors said there had been a particular spike in violence in the month before the inspection, but that there was no plan in place to make the STC more stable. The report, produced jointly by Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission and HM Inspectorate of Prisons, found staff at Rainsbrook to be inexperienced and poorly trained and that basic systems to safeguard and care for children were not in place.

Inspectors said 48% of the children they surveyed had reported being restrained by staff at Rainsbrook where, in 2004, 15-year-old Gareth Myatt died of asphyxiation while being restrained. Thirteen serious injuries or warning signs in respect of breathing difficulties during restraint were reported in the six months before the inspection.

Inspectors saw incidents in which young people were forcibly relocated to sterile rooms without any personal possessions, and in one case a mattress was removed. They said said this was punitive and risked increased vulnerability, adding that there was no evidence that any consideration was given to the impact on young people’s mental state of placing them in bare rooms.

Inspectors were also concerned about a transparent “glass brick” in the shower enclosure in the children’s rooms, saying these seriously compromised young people’s right to privacy and dignity as well as creating the potential for misuse.

The report found that the majority of staff at Rainsbrook had less than a year’s experience, with many having served only a few weeks or months in their roles. Inspectors said that they had found some significant improvements recently within the centre although the effectiveness of leaders and managers was inadequate. A new director had been appointed and staff had confidence in his clearly stated vision for the centre. They also found it encouraging that concerns raised by a whistleblowing member of staff had been acted on.

Last year, following investigations by Panorama and the Guardian into allegations of staff abuse at Medway STC in Kent, G4S announced that it was selling off its children’s services. Medway was taken over by the Ministry of Justice and Rainsbrook sold to MTCnovo.

G4S is currently negotiating the sale of Oakhill STC, its last centre. G4S has a contract to run the Oakhill centre near Milton Keynes until 2029, so the sale would have to be approved by the Ministry of Justice.

The director of the Howard League, Frances Crook, said: “It is time for ministers to accept what is staring them in the face – these STCs should be closed.”

The Ministry of Justice said: “The safety and welfare of young people is our absolute priority, and we recognise the significant challenges facing the youth estate. It is encouraging that inspectors recognise significant improvements have been made at Rainsbrook, but there is still a lot of work to do.

“Since the last inspection, Rainsbrook has recruited nearly 100 new members of staff and an improvement plan has been introduced to tackle violence and support vulnerable children. This includes rolling out additional CCTV and delivering specialist training for staff.

“We will continue to work closely with the contractor to drive improvements and ensure that we are delivering the best support to those in our care.”

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