politics

Ministers slammed for not intervening in £23.7m youth offending centre contract


Rainsbrook secure training centre was shut down in June, following serious ongoing safety concerns

Rainsbrook secure centre, which has now closed
Rainsbrook secure centre, which has now closed

Ministers failed to intervene to stop £23.7 million in taxpayers cash funding a failed, privately run youth offending centre.

Rainsbrook secure training centre was shut down in June, following serious ongoing safety concerns.

The government was forced to step in after it emerged children were being locked up for more than 23 hours a day at the site near Rugby in Warwickshire during the Covid-19 pandemic.

But in February last year the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) approved a two year extension for site operators MTC, despite inspectors issuing two improvements notices and a financial penalty the year before.

And in evidence given to a Justice Committee inquiry into the centre, it has been revealed there was no “ministerial oversight” into the contract extension.

The MOJ insisted the pattern of failings highlighted by inspectors were not “significant performance…factors that indicated this extension would be viewed as exceptional” – meaning there was no need for ministerial sign off.

All children have now been removed from the site and transferred to other facilities and the centre closed because inspectors deemed the threat to the safety was so grave.

But US-based private detention firm MTC is still being paid for the facility, which sits empty, until at least 2023.

Anna McMorrin MP, Labour ’s Shadow Minister for Victims and Youth Justice, said: “Yet again the Conservatives have been reckless with public finances and contracts, and their negligence is detrimental to crime reduction and rehabilitation efforts.

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“This is another damning reflection of the Conservatives appalling mishandling of the youth justice system, which undermines the rehabilitation of children and puts people at risk of increased reoffending.

“Labour has strongly called for an independent review of youth custody. Ministers must be accountable for their failings and answer how they will get a grip of the crisis in custody their decisions created.”








Labour shadow youth justice minister Anna McMorrin
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Image:

Getty Images)



A private prison operated by MTC in Mississippi was closed in 2016, after a federal judge said it was “struggling with disorder, periodic mayhem and staff ineptitude which leads to perpetual danger to the inmates and staff.”

As of 2019, the state was still paying down the £97.4 million in debts associated with the prison’s construction and maintenance contract.

A spokesperson for the US arm of MTC said the decision had been taken to close Walnut Grove prison in Mississippi for budgetary reasons.

They said that during their time running the prison, the firm had “made numerous improvements to safety and security systems resulting in a decrease in overall incidents.”

And they added: “The American Civil Liberties Union recognised the positive changes taking place at the prison and acknowledged that the state and MTChad made “significant improvements” at the facility.”

Responding to the Government’s decision to move children out of Rainsbrook earlier this year, MTC disputed the findings of the most recent Ofsted inspection of the facility.





In a statement, the firm said: “The welfare of the children we look after at Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre (STC) is our priority and in partnership with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), we have worked hard to address Ofsted’s recommendations following its inspection in December 2020.

“Given the previous positive assessments, including Ofsted’s follow up visit in January, we were very surprised to receive Ofsted’s feedback at the end of last week’s inspection. We have a number of concerns about their approach and ultimately the conclusions they have reached. We plan to vigorously challenge this as we go through the fact checking process. Despite repeated requests, the information that sits behind Ofsted’s assessment has still not been shared with us, raising further concerns about their approach.

“Since December 2020, in partnership with the Ministry of Justice, we have worked hard to address Ofsted’s recommendations and at a follow up visit in January, Ofsted inspectors recognised that progress had been made.

“Our mission has always been to improve the lives of those we look after and we will work constructively and collaboratively with the MoJ as Rainsbrook’s future is reviewed in the coming days and weeks.”

A Youth Custody Service spokesperson said: “The decision to extend MTC’s contract at Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre was made in November 2019, more than a year before the Urgent Notification was.

“As Ofsted noted, many of the issues that led to this were exacerbated by the pandemic. We are currently considering the future of Rainsbrook, with an announcement to be made on this in due course once discussions with the provider have concluded.”





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