Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre Contents

2Inspectorate findings

10.When HM Inspectorate of Prisons, Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) visited Rainsbrook on 10 December 2020 they found that previously raised concerns had not been addressed and that leaders at Rainsbrook were failing the children in their care.7 Inspectors described conditions as “bleak” and wrote to the Secretary of State, setting out their reasons for invoking the Urgent Notification Protocol, noting that (not an exclusive list and emphasis added):

October Assurance Visit

11.We questioned the inspectors about their findings from October 2020 to the point at which the Urgent Notification was invoked in December. Commenting on the October 2020 assurance visit, inspectors told us that Reverse Cohort Units were in operation because of the covid-19 pandemic, as set out in the Exceptional Delivery Model to ensure that children isolated for 14 days on reception to the centre. It was these children who were kept in their cells for 23.5 hours a day, a state of affairs that did not apply at similar centres operating covid-secure measures.

12.The inspectors questioned this practice, and senior MTC managers gave no reasonable assurance or explanation, then or later.9 At the time of that inspection, 43 children were detained in a facility that can hold 87. Although some staff were absent as a result of covid, managers assured inspectors that staffing was sufficient. Angus Mulready-Jones of HMIP said inspectors were told an austere regime was necessary and in line with Public Health England requirements, but that:

Even if you did not want children mixing with each other, there was sufficient time in that day to have them out of their rooms for three, three and a half or perhaps even four hours at a stretch. This was a problem of culture and it became easier to put children in their rooms than to get them out and think creatively about how to ameliorate the impact of the necessary restrictions due to covid on the wellbeing of children.10

13.The Inspectorates further clarified the operational procedures that MTC referred to, justifying their position, during inspection:

During the visit Rainsbrook STC provided us with operational procedures, which were formulated using central guidance by Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service: COVID-19 Operational Guidance|—xceptional Regime & Service Delivery. The Guidance stated:

14.Nick Stacey, HM Inspector, Ofsted, told us similar institutions had not locked up children 23.5 hours a day: Oakhill Secure Training Centre, for example, had similarly isolated children in reverse cohort units spending 3–4 hours a day out of their cells.12

15.After their October assurance visit, inspectors recommended that the practice of locking children in their cells for 23.5 hours a day cease immediately, and the outstanding recommendations from February 2020 be “decisively addressed”.13

Follow-up from the October Inspection

16.The inspectorates met the Youth Custody Service in October and again in November to raise concerns about Rainsbrook, particularly in regard to the time children were spending out of cell, the poor quality of education provision for children and the absence of action on the 19 recommendations made by inspectorates six months earlier in February 2020. Of the 19 recommendations the inspectors had made, there was evidence of only one having been acted on. The Youth Custody Service reassured them that the practice of keeping children in their cells for 23.5 hours a day would cease. The inspectors told us they left the Youth Custody Service with a very clear understanding of what their concerns were and received reassurances that these concerns would be dealt with.

17.Inspectors also wrote to the Secretary of State for Justice about their findings. They received “reassurances in correspondence that they [MTC and the Youth Custody Service] would be addressing the issues; they took the issues of concern very seriously and they would be making some progress to address the particular issue of newly admitted children. We felt they knew what the issues were and that they were going to address them at that point.”14

18.Inspectors told us that on 5 November the YCS presented the actions they had taken, including increased management oversight and immediately ceasing isolation of the children. Christine Williams, Deputy Director of Social Care and Regulatory Practice, Ofsted, said: “our understanding was—there was no reason to disbelieve it at the time—that some of those actions and recommendations would be addressed.”15

December Assurance Visit

19.The inspectors went unannounced to Rainsbrook again in December 2020 to follow-up on progress. What they found resulted in their invoking Urgent Notification. Christine Williams told us that children were still being locked in their rooms for 23.5 hours a day and that this practice had not, in spite of the assurances given, in fact ceased.16 Children gave the inspectors a number of examples of the practice still occurring, Inspectors challenged managers on-site and were told that this was not so. But those managers were unable to provide information to the contrary, either then or later, and what information they did provide in the form of written logs tended, the inspectors felt, to support what the children had told them.17

20.Angus Mulready-Jones told us two key elements in inspectorate findings in December led them to invoke Urgent Notification. First, there was the continued treatment of children and the practice of locking them up for long periods during their early days in custody. Secondly, long-standing deficiencies in education provision had not been dealt with. The February 2020 inspection report found that:

Far too many children refuse to go to education […] Children who refuse to attend education remain on their residential units during the school day and do not receive adequate support, supervision or direction to encourage them to engage in learning, or to plan their prompt return to school. Some staff allow children to wear their pyjamas in the early afternoon, and this does not encourage their readiness to engage in activities.18

In addition, teaching staff sometimes “appear overwhelmed by the scale of children’s poor behaviour” with half of some lesson time lost to disruption.19

21.The inspectors said: “we do not disagree that there is a need for different models of education to be delivered, particularly if you are short of staff, but, bearing in mind this was December and the pandemic started in March, we would have expected some plan to be put in place to deliver a coherent system of education to 45 children who were there in December.”20 Mr Mulready-Jones expanded on that point:

To put this into context, STCs hold children who are deemed to be too vulnerable to be put into YOIs. These regimes were experienced by children as young as 15 and continued even when there was evidence that the child was at risk of self-harm or exhibited signs of distress.

The size of the institution is important. We are not talking about a sprawling American establishment. It is a small site and it would have taken a matter of minutes for managers or YCS monitors to check if this poor treatment had been stopped. Therefore, the fact that it was not checked, or, if it was checked, it was not escalated, shows failure both at the centre with MTC and the YCS and wider in the Ministry of Justice to have the Secretary of State writing things in a letter on 18 November that we then found were not being implemented in December.21

22.Staffing at Rainsbrook was affected by covid-19, but so was the number of children at the centre, down to around half of capacity. The staff-to-child ratio was broadly unaffected and additional financial resource was provided to MTC by the Ministry of Justice. We cannot fathom why children were left in their cells for 23.5 hours a day after that practice had been identified and criticised and had supposedly ceased. Even more, we cannot understand why that fact went unnoticed and unaddressed by managers and monitors whose offices were two minutes’ walk from the children’s cells. It seems extraordinary that MTC managers and YCS monitors did not leave their offices to find out for themselves the condition in which the children in their care were kept.

Inspectorate recommendations and response

23.Inspectors told us how disappointing and frustrating it was that recommendations were simply not acted on. Angus Mulready-Jones explained: “This is a leadership and management problem; it is about being able to create an action plan that works and implementing it after it has been written down on a piece of paper […] they had done only the first part of it. It had written down an action plan but took no action”.22

24.Mr Mulready-Jones told us, too, that inspectorates regularly have to repeat recommendations (and not just at Rainsbrook). For example, “at Rainsbrook over the previous five years we have repeated whole or part-recommendations in areas like violence, bullying, use of force, self-harm, suicide prevention, education delivery, behaviour management and provision for girls.”.23 Christine Williams added:

Children being locked in their rooms for that length of time is totally unacceptable, but the other part of it is the number of recommendations still outstanding that they had not done anything with over a period of time. We can continue to make recommendations, but they have to implement them. We will continually check and highlight those and escalate them to the highest level, but, at the end of the day, they have to do something with them. We continue to make the same or similar ones.24

25.Nick Stacey also identified a cultural problem in leadership and management at Rainsbrook:

Senior managers issue instructions; they write procedures and protocols, which are often very detailed, but they are not implemented at middle and junior management levels. That is where the cultural problem is, because they do not have the means and quality assurance frameworks in place effectively to follow through to make sure these things happen on a day-to-day basis, so they just keep recycling and repeating, compounded by turnover of staff and changing teams in the education block and in senior management.25

26.We asked inspectors whether they were satisfied with how MTC, MoJ and YCS had responded to recommendations. Christine Williams said:

You cannot be satisfied when you have to make the same recommendations because ultimately it is about the service that those children are receiving, which is woefully inadequate. That cannot be acceptable to anyone. One of the things inspection does is identify what some of the issues are and you expect the provider and YCS to put those right so that it makes a difference for those children living there. That has not happened.26

Response by MTC

27.On 9 March, Ian Mulholland, Managing Director, MTC told us: “I would like to start by apologising unreservedly and expressing my deep regret and the deep regret of the organisation for the very obvious failings that inspectors found initially in October and then again when they revisited in December.” We asked Mr Mulholland why children had been locked up for 23.5 hours a day, and he explained:

People were absolutely focused on trying to protect children and staff from covid. In doing that they did the wrong thing, which resulted in children being locked up for excessive periods of time. As I said at the beginning, I am not going to try to defend that. That was wrong.27

28.Mr Mulholland said he was surprised that only one of 19 recommendations had been acted on. Mr Mulholland became managing director on 4 January this year and sought to persuade us that new management is in place, but he appeared reluctant to accept that recommendations made by the inspectorates should be followed through as a matter of course. He set out MTC’s current position:

We need to have a proper process to make sure that we only accept recommendations that we think are fair and grounded in evidence. Once we have accepted those recommendations, we need to make sure that we are putting an action plan together with realistic timescales that we believe we can meet. Once we have done both of those things, we get on and do it, and do it in such a way as is embedded, sustainable and measurable. We will then, from my external assurance process, check that the actions that we are claiming to have delivered are being delivered on a consistent basis and we are not leaving it solely to the leadership in the centre. There has to be a bit of external rigour taking place as well.28

29.When challenged on whether he intended to act only “on the recommendations that you like”, Mr Mulholland said “It is not within my gift only to accept recommendations that we like […] It is not only about doing the stuff that you like to do. I am sorry if I gave you that impression”.29

30.We are glad that new management is in place at MTC, particularly a new director on site and a new head of education, and that the YCS has taken steps to improve its on-site presence. We note the promises Mr Mulholland made to improve matters, but the experience of the inspectorates over the past 12 months has been that promises are worth less than the paper they are written on and we expect to see evidence of real change at Rainsbrook. We are concerned by Mr Mulholland’s statement that he plans to accept only recommendations “we think are fair or grounded” and recommend that he make a clear, public commitment to implementing the change the inspectorates, as independent external bodies, tell Rainsbrook to make unless there are clear, evidenced and transparently recorded reasons for doing otherwise in any specific case.

31.Ian Mulholland wrote to us following the hearing, stating that: “Since the Urgent Notification, I am pleased to be able to report that Ofsted have acknowledged the progress we have made however, we recognise there is much more to do and we are committed to maintaining ongoing improvements making sure we have the right people in place, redesigning our activity and education programme and investing in the centre’s environment.”30

32.HMPPS told us that improvements are now taking place since the UN, but more are needed. Jo Farrar, CEO, HMPPS, said that “they [MTC] really need to address recommendations in the February 2020 review.”31 The Secretary of State told us that it is “an opportune time” to look into the way in which the prison service responds to recommendations.32

Historical problems

33.Although our evidence session primarily focused on the findings of the most recent round of inspections, we cannot avoid pointing out that Rainsbrook has under-performed ever since the Ministry of Justice awarded MTC the contract to run it in 2016. As Mr Mulholland rightly told us, not all is negative and some improvements have been made: he cited resettlement provision and work in supporting children, particularly in maintaining ties with their families, and good work in healthcare.33 Nick Stacey of Ofsted also praised “good offender reduction work, substance misuse work and interventions around sexually harmful behaviour”.34 Whatever the failings of managers at Rainsbrook, we would point out that many of the frontline workers at the centre have at times been considered by the inspectors to have good relationships with the children in their care, and it is, of course, the case that those staff are doing remarkably difficult jobs for often comparatively little reward.

34.All the same, the inspectors have repeatedly judged the centre overall as “requires improvement to be good” (in October 2018, June 2017 and October 2016). This problem predates MTC: Rainsbrook was last deemed “good” in 2013.35 Nick Stacey told us of a variety of reasons for these failings; among others, many staff at the centre have a background in the adult custodial estate and, he said, essentially import an adult custodial model into a children’s place of detention.36 There is a long history of ineffective senior management grip and oversight to make improvements at pace. Performance management systems for improvements have been based on what may be counted rather than what is meaningfully done.37 High turnover of frontline custody officers is also a substantial and chronic problem, with staff typically staying in post not much over a year.38

35.High staff turnover experienced at Rainsbrook, has, without a doubt, contributed to the significant failings at the centre. Youth custodial institutions are vastly different to the adult estate, and require staff who have an understanding and experience of the environment they will be working in. While there is nothing wrong with staff moving across to the youth estate from the adult estate, it is not appropriate for these staff to operate as though they are in the adult estate. We recommend that the management at MTC set out clearly what they are doing to address the existing issue of staff retention, including what incentives and support they offer to staff. MTC should also set out what training is given to staff to ensure that staff are adequately skilled and equipped to work in the youth custodial estate. If consideration has not been given to this, MTC should set out what plans it has in place to ensure that staff are adequately trained and supported to work well in a youth custodial environment.

36.There has been intermittent progress in some areas over the years but without consistent overall improvement. Christine Williams said: “The difficulty is that as one thing improves something else deteriorates and there needs to be a consistent offer of good support and service for children from when they go in, to a good transition and resettlement period when they leave. That is what we are not able to see.”39 Angus Mulready-Jones told us lack of progress reflects fundamental weakness across the STC sector, noting that “Oakhill has required improvement since 2017, and before it closed Medway was inadequate or required improvement for the last four years, so there are systemic failures around STCs”.40 Mr Mulready-Jones went on:

There will always be some improvement, but the issue is that the majority of children’s experience just is not good enough, and that practice continues over time. That is what we have seen at Rainsbrook.41

37.The children held in secure institutions have committed often very serious crimes but also include some of the most vulnerable members of society. Those in detention at Rainsbrook were considered too vulnerable to be placed in Young Offender Institutions. The evidence we have heard is shocking; it is unacceptable to lock children in their cells twenty three-and-a-half hours a day, with limited meaningful social contact, a practice tantamount, as the three inspectorates rightly say, to placing them in solitary confinement. Whatever crimes they have committed, children—vulnerable children—deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and it is clear that this has not been so at Rainsbrook.

38.It is a startling indictment of senior managers at MTC that the overwhelming majority of recommendations made by the joint inspectorates in February 2020 were not actioned. Those managers and the company appear largely to have ignored those recommendations until the Urgent Notification was invoked. A picture has been painted of a bureaucratic response built on managing the requirements of a contract, producing pieces of paper, and providing assurances that all was well when nothing was being done to make it so—even to the extent that the Secretary of State put his name in good faith to a letter saying that improvement was happening when it was not. An action plan without any action is pointless. MTC Managing Director Mr Mulholland told us he plans to accept only recommendations he thinks fair, a response that gives little confidence that the new management installed since Urgent Notification is demonstrating the necessary grip or understanding.

39.We are not confident in MTC’s ability to deliver the action required by recommendations repeatedly made over a period of years by the three inspectorates. We recommend that MTC and the Youth Custody Service report to us by June 2021, setting out in detail what progress has been made against the action plan now developed. MTC should also set out what impact changes made have had on children at the centre. If no substantial improvement is then apparent, the Ministry should consider taking Rainsbrook back in house.

40.It is clear that further work needs to be done on the way in which the prison service more generally responds to recommendations. It is important for all organisations that they are able to learn from external sources of assurance. Inspectorates have told us, in this and in other inquiries, that they repeatedly make the same recommendations over a sustained period without effective action resulting. This brings into question how seriously the prison service takes the recommendations made. The Ministry of Justice should set out in detail, what work they are doing to ensure that recommendations made by Inspectorates are taken seriously and acted upon quickly and effectively.

7 The urgent notification process was formally introduced in November 2017. The protocol is drawn up between the MOJ and HM Inspector of Prisons and sets out the role of each organisation and the role of “principle individuals.” It restates the independence of both the Chief Inspector and the Inspectorate and gives an escalation process to resolve conflict between MOJ and the Chief Inspector in the event that the default position of ongoing dialogue is not sufficient. If the Chief Inspector identifies “significant concerns with regard to the treatment and conditions of those detained” he or she will “write to the Secretary of State within seven calendar days of the end of the inspection, providing notification of the significant concern, and reasons for those concerns. The Secretary of State must respond publicly to concerns within 28 calendar days.

8 Letter from Amanda Spielman, HM Chief Inspector, Ofsted to Robert Buckland QC MP, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Urgent Notification: Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre, 18 December 2020

9 Q2 [Nick Stacey]

10 Q11 [Angus Mulready-Jones]

11 Ofsted, CQC and HMIP letter (Appendix)

12 Q3 [Nick Stacey]

13 Q2 [Nick Stacey]

14 Q5 [Christine Williams]; See also Appendix

15 Q7 [Christine Williams]

16 Q7 [Christine Williams]

17 Q7 [Christine Williams]

18 Ofsted, Care Quality Commission and HM Inspectorate of Prisons, Rainsbrook STC: Annual Inspection (February 2020), paras 19–20

19 Ofsted, Care Quality Commission and HM Inspectorate of Prisons, Rainsbrook STC: Annual Inspection (February 2020), para 21

20 Q15 [Angus Mulready-Jones]

21 Q15 [Angus Mulready-Jones]

22 Q28 [Angus Mulready-Jones]

23 Q28 [Angus Mulready Jones]

24 Q28 [Christine Williams]

25 Q28 [Nick Stacey]

26 Q32 [Christine Williams]

27 Q50 [Ian Mulholland]

28 Q59 [Ian Mulholland]

29 Q59 [Ian Mulholland]

30 MTC Letter [Appendix]

31 Q101 [Jo Farrar]

32 Q121 [Robert Buckland]

33 Q47 [Ian Mulholland]

34 Q26 (Nick Stacey]

35 Q24 [Angus Mulready-Jones]

36 Q21 [Nick Stacey]

37 Q21 [Nick Stacey]

38 Q21 [Nick Stacey]

39 Q26 [Christine Williams]

40 Q27 [Angus Mulready-Jones]

41 Q27 [Angus Mulready-Jones]

Published: 29 March 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement