A PARISH in Kent is threatening legal action against the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) for the treatment of children 135 miles away, after it was revealed that children as young as 15 were being held in near-solitary confinement during lockdown.
The Vicar of St Margaret’s, Rainham, near Gillingham, the Revd Nathan Ward, has instructed solicitors to act on behalf of his church to demand that the MOJ take urgent action to protect children at Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre (STC), near Rugby, Warwickshire.
A joint inspection team from Ofsted, the prisons inspectorate, and the Care Quality Commission, found that newly arrived children at Rainsbrook were kept in their rooms for more than 23 hours a day, were allowed out for only 30 minutes a day for 14 days, and banned from interaction with other children.
The inspectors have issued an “Urgent Notification” letter to the Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, requiring him to set out within 28 days how he will address their concerns.
Although it is believed that no one from the parish is held at Rainsbrook, Mr Ward was prompted to act when he could find no one else campaigning for improved conditions. Before being ordained, he was manager of Brook House Detention Centre, near Gatwick. He left and became a whistleblower in 2014, driven by concerns about the treatment of inmates.
He is supported by a deputy churchwarden, a former crown prosecutor; and another PCC member is a human-rights lawyer.
Irwin Mitchell LLP, acting for St Margaret’s, demanded that isolation for children be stopped immediately, that all children received appropriate educational provision, and that urgent steps are taken to address the serious failings found by inspectors.
Without an urgent written response to these demands, legal action would ensue, the solicitors told the MOJ, in a letter seen by the Church Times.
Mr Ward has accused the MOJ of systematic failure, as this revelation is only the latest in a number of serious issues highlighted by inspectors at the centre over the past four years, including the increased use of force and restraint against children, and rising levels of violence.
“We cannot stand by and watch children being mistreated this way,” Mr Ward said. “The Ministry of Justice has systematically failed for months, and the Secretary of State must take urgent remedial action.
“It’s just not enough to speak of sending a team in to look at things. These latest findings are not the first systematic failures at Rainsbrook. The ongoing violation of the rights of some of the most vulnerable children in our society is an absolute scandal, and it isn’t enough simply to send in civil servants. Children must be properly cared for now, before further damage is done.
“We are taking this action to try and ensure no child is kept in solitary confinement unlawfully over Christmas and beyond.”
The Ministry of Justice said it could not comment during legal proceedings, or when proceedings were threatened.
In a response to the issuing of the Urgent Notification last week, the Justice Minister Lucy Frazer said that the findings were “incredibly concerning and disappointing, particularly as MTC gave repeated assurances they would act on previous warnings”.
She said that children would no longer be placed at Rainsbrook, and a formal action plan will be published in response to the Notification by the 15 January deadline.
Rainsbrook is privately run by the US prison company MTC, and held 45 boys and girls at the time of the inspection. It takes children from the ages of 12 to 17. It issued a statement in response to the inspectors’ report, recognising the severity of the situation and listing the improvements made at the STC after earlier inspections.
“Previous Ofsted reports have acknowledged the improvements made since we took over in 2016 and recognised that children and young people now have dedicated care officers, key workers and are supported by a forensic psychology team. They also reported that training, pay and conditions have improved for colleagues under our management.
“We recognise there is more work to do to improve the centre, and we do accept more should have been done during this challenging period. We understand what changes we need to make to ensure this does not happen again.
“We are confident the new leadership and the new measures will deliver safe and effective services that will protect and safeguard the children and young people in our care.”
For its part, St Margaret’s has produced a statement justifying its involvement: “So what is Jesus saying to us about Rainsbrook STC? Is he saying ‘This is out of your area; leave it for others; concentrate on things closer to home’? Or is he saying ‘Go and act in my name’?
“We firmly believe it’s the latter, and that God has brought us together with our particular gifts, experience and contacts to serve him in this way. . .
“As one of the two remaining STCs in England and Wales (the other is at Oakhill, Milton Keynes) it is quite possible that Rainsbrook has, or will at some stage have, children from Medway there. But even if that were not so, we would still feel compelled to intervene in Christ’s name: ‘Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”