Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre Contents

Conclusions and recommendations


1.The litany of inaction and what one inspector called “utter incompetence” at Rainsbrook year after year provides a cautionary tale of how badly an arms-length relationship between the Ministry of Justice as a client and MTC as the company hired to deliver on contract can fail to deliver basic standards of care to vulnerable children. (Paragraph 2)

2.We recognise that all prisons and other custodial institutions face additional pressures during the current covid-19 pandemic, but we do not consider those to be justification or excuse for the continued poor conditions at Rainsbrook and the repeated absence of effective action to remedy them by staff employed by MTC at Rainsbrook and senior staff at the Ministry of Justice and Youth Custody Service. (Paragraph 9)

Inspectorate findings

3.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. (Paragraph 22)

4.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. (Paragraph 30)

5.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. (Paragraph 35)

6.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. (Paragraph 37)

7.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. (Paragraph 38)

8.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. (Paragraph 39)

9.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. (Paragraph 40)

Oversight of Rainsbrook STC

10.We welcome the implementation of a new assurance process. More is required than that, however, given what we have heard about action plans being written but not acted on. Those charged with overseeing previous assurances processes failed in the basic task of checking for themselves what was going on and we need greater confidence that a new process will improve upon the existing one. We recommend that MTC set out what their new assurance process is and how it differs from the one previously in existence. In particular, what practical steps will MTC take to ensure that its senior managers at the centre know, for themselves, whether improvements reported to them are real and long-lasting? We also recommend that the Ministry of Justice and the Youth Custody Service set out clearly what they will do to assess the provider’s new assurance processes to ensure that they are operating effectively, and to confirm, for themselves, that what they are being told is true. (Paragraph 51)

11.The Ministry of Justice, Youth Custody Service, HMPPS and MTC failed in their management and oversight of Rainsbrook STC, and the evidence suggests that, in varying degrees, that failure was not limited to one body. We are deeply concerned that processes in place to oversee Rainsbrook failed to fully safeguard children in the care of the establishment. We welcome work being done to address failings, but the issues identified here in poor leadership and oversight are not new and a greater sense of urgency is required. We welcome the independent review being carried out to understand what went wrong, directed by HMPPS, and recommend that HMPPS share its findings with the Committee and set out clearly what changes will be made to national oversight to ensure that HMPPS, YCS and MoJ have sufficient grip and oversight on all institutions, both contracted and public. (Paragraph 58)

12.We recommend that the Ministry of Justice review monitoring processes in place across the youth secure estate to ensure that robust central monitoring is in place. The Ministry should also set out how they intend to learn lessons from the failings at Rainsbrook, and ensure that the same mistakes are not made in the delivery of secure schools. (Paragraph 59)

13.Embedding YCS staff within the institutions whose performance they are monitoring is clearly good practice in principle but is not sufficient on its own. The Minister should consider having additional monitors travelling around sites, or a further form of independent monitoring. We recommend that the Ministry consider how it can manage the risk of its staff either failing to see what is happening or failing to challenge it. Whichever of those things happened at Rainsbrook, neither is acceptable. (Paragraph 60)

14.We are concerned that Ministry of Justice awarded MTC the maximum possible contract extension. Based on the evidence heard on 9 March, coupled with the inspectorates’ findings, it is clear that MTC have failed to fulfil a number of contractual obligations. The company clearly did not fulfil the requirement to “deliver a service that places Young People at its heart and considers their needs, wants and wishes at all stages of their stay at the STC”. While the difficulties of re-letting a contract and potentially changing a Secure Training Centre provider during the covid-19 pandemic may be considerable, there can be little justification for retaining the services of a badly under-performing contractor, and even less for giving them two more years of that contract. Notwithstanding the complications of letting a contract during a pandemic period, no one’s needs, and in particular the needs of some of our society’s most vulnerable children, should be placed second to administrative considerations. (Paragraph 68)

15.We seek a clear explanation of why the Ministry of Justice chose to extend MTC’s contract by two years when the contractor’s ability to deliver was already in question, and we ask what ministerial involvement there was in making that decision and, in particular, in signing it off. (Paragraph 69)

16.Consistently sub-standard performance of a contract does not merit renewal in any circumstances. We recommend that the Secretary of State urgently reviews whether his Ministry plans to renew any other contract or any contractor whose performance is similarly consistently poor. (Paragraph 70)

17.We are glad to hear the Secretary of State, rt hon. Robert Buckland QC MP, say “I absolutely take and hold accountability overall, which I am prepared to accept, and I do so in front of the Committee”. No-one likes, in his own phrase, being “played for a fool” and we appreciate his commitment to ensure that there are serious consequences in store should any attempt be made to mislead him or his Ministry again about what is being done at Rainsbrook. (Paragraph 72)

Published: 29 March 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement