Will this private US company run children’s prisons better than G4S?Posted: April 21, 2016
MTCNovo’s US prison record under the spotlight
Children’s prisons hit the headlines earlier this year when the BBC’s Panorama programme exposed alleged child abuse, coercion and falsification of records by private contractor G4S at its Medway Secure Training Centre (STC).
Soon after G4S said it was getting out of the business of managing children in prison. But others have stepped in to fill the breach.
Already running Rainsbrook, there were rumours that MTCNovo was also in discussions to take over Medway from G4S, but the company has told PWUK that it is not involved in any such talks.
Who is MTCNovo?
MTCNovo is a subsidiary of Management & Training Corporation (MTC), the US’s third largest operator of private adult correctional facilities with over $500m in revenue.
MTC is a private company based in Utah. It was founded in 1981 and employs more than 9,000 people worldwide. The company runs two of the biggest “Community Rehabilitation Companies” in London and the Thames Valley.
What is MTC’s record of prison management?
The company has had problems in Arizona, Mississippi and Texas.
- Arizona: In August 2015, MTC lost a contract to run a prison in Arizona after an investigation into rioting and violence. The Arizona Department of Corrections’ report found a “culture of disorganisation, disengagement and disregard.” Governor Doug Ducey said that MTC “failed” to control riots that badly damaged Kingman prison and injured 16 people.
- Mississippi: an MTC-run prison called Walnut Grove is under judicial oversight due to “cruel and unusual” punishments. MTC took over the prison from another private operator in 2012. After three years under its management a judge found in June 2015 that, although improvements had been made, “current and ongoing violations of the Eighth Amendment [protection from cruel and unusual punishments] exist at the facility.” Judge Carlton Reeves wrote that Walnut Grove was “a facility struggling with disorder, periodic mayhem, and staff ineptitude”
- Mississippi too: MTC is involved with a legal case about inmate abuse at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, a prison described in legal documents as “an extraordinarily dangerous” place. Sky News spoke to Carl Takei, attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), about the case: “MTC has a pretty terrible record. In 2015, a federal judge found that MTC had failed to take adequate steps to protect the security of prisoners inside, including by allowing prisoners to have their own gang escorts.”
- Texas: MTC lost the contract to run Willacy tent prison for “criminal aliens” after tear gas was used to control 2,000 prisoners, who were protesting about inadequate medical care.
- Other cases: The US watchdog Project on Government Oversight (POGO) shows ten findings of misconduct against MTC since 1995. The company has paid over $9m in penalties in these cases.
Of course, US prisons are not always directly comparable to British ones as they tend to be far more violent, but the cases do seem to point to a pattern of behaviour.
— Andrew Neilson (@neilsonandrew) April 12, 2016
What do NGOs think about MTC?
The Howard League for Penal Reform, Inquest, Article 39 and the ACLU have all raised concerns about MTC’s lack of experience in running children’s prisons, its record of managing US prisons and the vetting procedures used by the UK government in awarding it the Rainsbrook contract.
“Deeply troubled by the likelihood that the new contractor, MTCnovo, has no experience of running residential establishments for vulnerable children. Moreover, it would appear that MTC, the lead company in MTCnovo, is under legal supervision in respect of at least one US prison and has at least one class action lawsuit pending in relation to prisoner abuse.”
The Howard League also wrote a letter to the UN’s Committee of the Rights of the Child saying that it had “raised concerns with the government about the suitability of the company to run a children’s prison given its record of human rights violations in its prisons in the US.”
Tabitha Kassem of the Howard League was quoted by Sky saying: “Private companies are not fit for this purpose – this is about safeguarding vulnerable children. And when an organisation is running for profit, there is an inherent difficulty with that.”
The ACLU released a report on MTC’s problems running a tent prison for illegal immigrants in Texas called: Warehoused and Forgotten: Immigrants Trapped in Our Shadow Private Prison System. The report criticised MTC’s handling of prisoners including:
- Prisoners said MTC guards called them names like “wetback” and “Mexican nigger” and used profanities against them.
- Prisoners said that MTC staff make arbitrary threats of physical violence and disciplinary sanctions.
- When speaking about MTC’s corporate logo – “BIONIC: Believe it or not I care” – one prisoner said: “I think that’s got to be one of the most enormous lies there’s ever been. The officers here treat us with such little respect,” said one prisoner.
Mr Takei of the ACLU was quoted by Sky as saying: “It’s disturbing that MTC would be able to expand in the UK, given its record in the United States.”
— Frances Crook (@francescrook) April 18, 2016
How has MTC responded to allegations?
MTC spokesman Arthur Leathley told PWUK that the company inherited many of the problems at its US prisons from the previous operators and has been trying to “turn things around from a very low base”.
It appears to be succeeding in the case of the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, where levels of violence have dropped significantly in the past three years.
But Mr Leathley did say that there was work still to be done. “All these problems aren’t ironed out yet. There are still difficulties in running prisons….There are things that have fallen short of the desired level.”
“We’re not denying that we’ve cleaned the stables overnight,” he said. “It’s a 5-year programme that we’ve been given to deal with issues. We’re in the third year. It’s going to take time.”
Mr Leathley said the company wanted to be more open in the future. “In terms of how we operate things, we have nothing to hide.”
The company also said it did not have direct experience of running children’s prisons, but had significant involvement with young people through the Job Corps in the US. It also disputed the findings of Arizona Department of Corrections.
What has the government said?
In October 2015, Lord Beecham asked a question in parliament about MTC’s relevant experience and its human rights record. He received the following response from Lord Faulks:
“MTC and their main partner Amey were subject to robust and rigorous assessment at the pre-qualification stage of the competition. This included a thorough examination of health and safety, equalities, human rights and discrimination policies, and a requirement to demonstrate their experience of managing children and young people. There were no findings of a breach in human rights or equality legislation.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson told Sky that: “The company submitted a high quality tender which showed its extensive experience and understanding in managing and rehabilitating young people.”
Do you know any more about MTCNovo?
If you have any questions or comments to add, please do so below or email us at UKPrisonWatch@gmail.co.uk