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A safe place for children? G4S pays for “independent” report on Rainsbrook prison

  • The world's largest security company shows how to undermine a rigorous and shocking account of racism and degrading treatment at a child prison. 

inset: Sir Martin Narey

If you were choosing a school for your child, or a nursing home for a parent with complex needs, at what point would you put an establishment on the ‘over my dead body’ pile?

An appalling inspection report, published just two months ago? Ten members of staff dismissed within a 13-month period? Racism and illegal drug taking among staff?

How about degrading treatment, or a person with a fractured wrist being denied hospital treatment for 15 hours?

What if you heard that a very vulnerable individual had been fatally restrained in the establishment in 2004, his cries that he couldn’t breathe ignored by the staff holding him down? That staff were found to have nicknames like Clubber, Crusher and Mauler? Or that, five years ago, a manager was convicted of actual bodily harm against a person in his care?

Would you send your child or parent to a place like this?

Sir Martin Narey says he would: “My test in visiting places of custody for over thirty years is to reflect about how I’d feel if my son or daughter were incarcerated there. In Rainsbrook’s case, I would consider him or her to be safe and to be generally well treated,” he writes, in a report that is being promoted as “independent” by the Youth Justice Board.

Rainsbrook secure training centre, in Northamptonshire, holds boys and girls aged 12 to 18. It is run for the government by the international security company G4S. The children’s charity Barnardo’s is contracted to provide the children with independent advocacy.

Narey started his prison governor training in 1982 and was director-general of the prison service between 1998 and 2003. He was chief executive of Barnardo’s until 2011, after which he became the government’s ‘adoption tsar’ and now advises ministers on the education and training of children’s social workers. He has “offered occasional advice to G4S” on the care and custody of children since 2012.

“Completely unacceptable”

In May, a joint report from Ofsted, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons and the Care Quality Commission judged G4S-run Rainsbrook secure training centre to be inadequate in keeping children safe. “Inadequate” is the lowest possible rating.

There were 77 children detained at the time of the inspection. Details of 54 of the children show 17 per cent were disabled, 57 per cent had been in local authority care and a quarter were aged 15 or under. 

The inspectors found that, since their last visit, there had been “serious incidents of gross misconduct by staff, including some who were in positions of leadership”. 

“Poor staff behaviour has led to some young people being subject to degrading treatment, racist comments, and being cared for by staff who were under the influence of illegal drugs,” the inspectors said. Staff collusion with children, and other misconduct, had caused children “distress and humiliation”.

In two of the eight incidents of “serious staff misconduct” examined by inspectors, there was a delay in G4S action to protect children and, by the time of the inspection, there had been no review to analyse why such incidents had occurred and to explain the absence of whistleblowing.

Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre (from G4S promotional video)

G4S issued a press release on the day the report was published, in which director of children’s services Paul Cook described the report as “extremely disappointing” whilst admitting that the misconduct was “completely unacceptable”. In the weeks that followed, many local authority youth offending teams refused to have their children held in Rainsbrook.

“I do not believe that”

Last week, on Tuesday 28 July, the Youth Justice Board (YJB) announced on its website: “An independent report on Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre (STC) by Sir Martin Narey has been published today”. Narey “clearly states that, in his view, Rainsbrook is a safe place for children and young people, they are treated kindly and, with many of them, tangible progress is made towards their rehabilitation”, its press release explained. It continues:

“The YJB continues to work closely with G4S to ensure that the improvements recommended by the inspectorates are acted upon. We hope that an early re-inspection of Rainsbrook will be possible and will also confirm progress made.”

At the same time, G4S announced: “A new assessment of performance at the Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre for young offenders has found that the centre is not an unsafe place for children.”  

But the ‘news’ was not only that Rainsbrook had been given the all-clear by Narey, two months after the dreadful inspection report; it was also that, in Narey’s opinion, the prison had been safe when the inspectors said it wasn’t.

The G4S press release quoted from Narey’s report: “The inspectorate conclusion was that in February of this year, at the time of the inspection, Rainsbrook was an inadequate institution and an unsafe place for children. I do not believe that.”

Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre (not from G4S promotional video)

Narey reports that the inadequate rating has had a “profound” effect on Rainsbrook’s staff, and that “Understandably, the publicity seems adversely to have affected recruitment .. (a Google search for Rainsbrook produces extremely negative results).” He observed a recruitment day when only two of eight shortlisted candidates (“including some employed from the Prison Service”) turned up.  

Local authorities refusing to have their children placed at the centre was “not unreasonable”, Narey says, given “the extensive news coverage.” (The inspectors’ damning findings had been reported by the BBC, ITV, the Financial Times, the Guardian, the Independent and openDemocracy.)

“Free, unfettered access”

The G4S press release states: “During his three-day visit to Rainsbrook. . . Sir Martin was both unsupervised and unaccompanied. He was not constrained by terms of reference and had free and unfettered access to the centre, the staff and the children.”

Narey’s report indicates that he looked through the file of at least one child formerly detained in the prison, watched CCTV footage of children being restrained and was briefed about the crimes that brought individual children to the centre (he reports the serious crimes of seven children).

According to statutory rules: “No outside person shall be permitted to view a centre unless authorised by statute or the Secretary of State.” And: “No person viewing a centre shall be permitted to take a photograph, make a sketch or communicate with a trainee unless authorised by statute or the Secretary of State.”

Was Narey’s visit authorised?

When I asked G4S about this, they passed me to Narey who explained: “before I visited Rainsbrook, I told the Secretary of State personally that I had been commissioned to review the care of children at Rainsbrook and — although G4S were paying for my time — that I was directing my report primarily to the YJB [Youth Justice Board]. He asked me simultaneously to let his office have a copy of my report.”

G4S told me the Ministry of Justice was “aware and content” with Narey’s viewing of the centre, though I’m still no wiser as to whether the security company sought authorisation.

Independent from whom?

Although Narey’s report states that he has acted as a paid consultant to G4S since 2012, and the multinational was upfront in its press release about ‘compensating’ him for this latest piece of work, there was no disclosure about his role in advising G4S’s bid for the next seven-year Rainsbrook contract, worth £92 million.

When I asked him about that, Narey told me: “I worked for seven days for G4S last year advising them on the educational and child friendly aspects of their bid to retain the management of their STCs.” (Medway secure training centre is also out to tender, that contract is worth £89 million). Narey said he has “no role and no knowledge of the commercial aspects of their bid”.

He wasn’t sure whether he is named in the bid or the appendices, adding that he had “made an offer to bring together a group of critically minded people to act as some sort of ethics committee overseeing the care of our most vulnerable incarcerated children” whoever might run the centres in future.

When I pressed G4S on the matter, I was told that if Narey “was mentioned [in the bid] it would only have been in relation to his offer to set up an ethics committee”. 

Private Eye 14-27 May 2010 (issue 1262)

Then there is the matter of rigour.

Narey describes his methodology in his report. He says he “drew keys and wandered through the centre at will”. And: “At my insistence I worked without terms of reference.” He spoke with children informally, not in “focus groups or in any other similarly contrived session”.

The three inspectorates issued a joint statement in response to Narey’s published assessment. They said that their own inspection was “deep and broad, as the public would expect”.

They explained: “Our inspectors drew keys, walked unaccompanied throughout the centre and conducted many one-to-one interviews with young people. We ate with them, visited their living units and observed their education. Together we spent a total of 70 inspector days at Rainsbrook. The judgements were firmly based on a wide range of evidence and rightly took account of what had happened in the months leading up to the inspection.”

The team of seven inspectors was led by a registered social worker, with qualifications in child protection, human rights and psychology, and a background in managing children’s services in local authorities and the voluntary sector. The organisations “fully stand by the findings and recommendations”.

Children in custody are routinely surveyed during inspections, to establish their views and experiences from admission to preparation for discharge. One question relates to visits from family and friends. Inspectors reported in May that just 36 per cent of children at Rainsbrook received a weekly visit – significantly lower than the 52 per cent average across all secure training centres. On this matter, Narey recounts discussions with “one or two” girls who said their families found it difficult to visit, because of the prohibitive distance between home and prison. “I don’t believe that to be the case,” he concludes, citing the efforts staff made to persuade the parents of one girl to visit.

Narey rejects the inspectorates’ judgement that a senior manager had prevented a child with a fractured wrist receiving medical treatment. Revealing that the senior manager in question was, in fact, the director of the centre, Narey observes: 


“I interviewed the ex-Director specifically on this point. It is impossible to be certain what happened. So I find Ofsted’s certainty about his personal culpability — reflected in a decision last week to ask G4S to refer him to the Health and Care Professions Council — puzzling. On balance I consider that it is extremely unlikely that he would intentionally ignore clear medical advice and refuse to send a child to hospital, not least because to do so would have opened him up to potential dismissal and the end of his social work career.”

As someone who has made hundreds of freedom of information requests over the years, with many refusals on the basis of protecting personal data, I have to say that many of Narey’s disclosures are striking.

Narey questions the dismissal of an “apparently popular” member of staff for piggy-backing on a child. “That member of staff might have considered his dismissal to be harsh,” he concludes, without giving a professional view as to whether G4S had followed employment law.

He asserts: “For the last three years, and after every occasion that a child is restrained, he or she is interviewed by someone from Barnardo’s.” That claim contradicts inspection reports, and the advocacy service’s own annual reports for the past three years – which I obtained through an FOI request. The 2012/13 annual report states “no young person asked for an advocate to be present at their [restraint] debrief” and the 2013/14 report notes “young people requesting advocate support at their de-briefs is extremely low”. Such poor take-up “is worthy of further investigation by the centre”, the inspectorates concluded in May 2015. 

Narey says he understands why “some of the incidents in 2014” had affected the inspectorates’ assessment of Rainsbrook. He shares “Ofsted’s horror” about one abusive event in particular. Despite this, he maintains that the inspection team was mistaken in its judgement: “The institution may be a better establishment now than at the time of the inspection. But I doubt that any such improvement has been significant enough to explain the discrepancy between the Inspectorates’ conclusion and mine.”

“Utterly devastating”

Four days ahead of Narey’s report, G4S uploaded a promotional video about Rainsbrook onto YouTube.

Rainsbrook director John Parker, speaking on the video, calls the inspection findings “utterly devastating”, adding “clearly over the past 16 years the centre has worked tirelessly to achieve the highest outcomes for young people”.

No detail is given of the “serious incidents of gross misconduct by staff” reported by the three inspectorates in May, or the 37 separate actions G4S had to take in response to the inspection. Neither is there any reference to the 2012 High Court finding that the three secure training centres operated by G4S, and the one run by Serco (closed at the end of last year), had been running unlawful restraint regimes from the time they opened for nearly a decade, possibly longer.

When the case reached the Court of Appeal in 2013, the systematic physical abuse was challenged by neither government, G4S nor Serco.

Gareth MyattRainsbrook’s 16-year history includes the horrific death of Gareth Myatt, aged 15, of mixed race, and small for his age. He was admitted on a Friday and died of asphyxiation whilst being restrained by three G4S officers the following Monday. At the inquest into Gareth’s death John Parker, who was Rainsbrook’s director at the time, admitted that he had never read the Home Office manual governing the use of restraint in his prison.

Ofsted has a complaints procedure that G4S might have used to challenge the inspection process or conclusions. I asked G4S if they had done so. The answer I got was: “We made representations around the report.” There is no mention in Narey’s report of the multinational using official channels to dispute what the inspectors found.

 



Author note: This piece is written in a personal capacity. 


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