Privately-run youth jail could be brought back under public control

There is a “very material possibility” a privately-run youth jail could be brought back under public control after serious safety concerns were raised, a minister told MPs.

Justice minister Alex Chalk said several options were being considered for the future of Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre (STC) while contract negotiations are ongoing with US-based contractor MTC.

Other proposals involve shutting down the centre or using the site for another purpose.

Alternative accommodation had to be found for 33 children after the Government was urged to step in and take urgent action when it emerged they were being locked up for more than 23 hours a day during the coronavirus pandemic at the site near Rugby in Warwickshire.

Speaking to the Commons Justice Committee on Tuesday, Mr Chalk insisted: “We are not hanging around here – we’ve got to get this sorted out.”

He added: “We need to get ourselves into a position where this can be properly concluded and we would like to conclude it in a way that does not disadvantage the taxpayer.”

Bringing the site “in house” is “definitely one that is very much in our thinking at the moment so that’s a very material possibility”, he said but warned he could not give “absolute clarity” at this time as discussions were ongoing, adding: “Clearly we are not going back to a situation as before.”

Of 30 children at the site, all but two have now been moved to new premises – including Youth Offender Institutions and secure children’s homes, the committee heard.

It is hoped arrangements will be finalised for the remaining two by the end of the week, Mr Chalk said.

The committee raised concerns about the conditions of some of the sites some in the group had been moved to but the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) second permanent secretary Jo Farrar said experienced case workers were making sure the placements were “appropriate”.

Rainsbrook can hold up to 87 children aged 12 to 17 years, who are serving a custodial sentence or on remand from the courts.

In December, Ofsted, the Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP), and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) issued a rare urgent notification (UN) to Mr Buckland over the “continued poor care and leadership” at the site, amid concerns vulnerable children were being subjected to a “bleak regime”.

Inspectors found little progress had been made, despite assurances that immediate action would be taken two months earlier, amid concerns that newly-admitted children, some as young as 15, were being locked in their bedrooms for 14 days and only allowed out for 30 minutes a day.

MTC’s managing director Ian Mulholland, who took over the role in January and was not in charge at the time of the inspections, previously apologised “unreservedly” for the “very obvious failings” but said efforts were being made to rectify the situation.

The Commons Justice Committee later slammed promises of improvement made by MTC as “worth less than the paper they are written on”.

During the latest hearing, it emerged Mr Mulholland and his predecessor David Hood used to work for the MoJ. Helga Swidenbank, the department’s executive director of the Youth Custody Service, also declared she previously worked for the company as well as Sodexo, which holds other Government contracts.

Ms Farrar assured the committee there was a “register of interests” and that a separate team of MoJ officials was handling the negotiations.