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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Military Detention shows prisons the way forward

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Inspectors concluded that the MCTC was a model custodial institution. The contrast with their' findings on the state of adult male and young offender institutions could hardly be more stark.

This is the seventh and final post in a short series exploring the final annual report of Prison Chief Inspector Nick Hardwick published on 14 July 2015. This post looks at Hardwick’s findings from the inspections of military detention.

What is military detention?

The Military Corrective Training Centre (MCTC) in Colchester is the armed services’ only secure corrective training centre. The centre can hold 323 male and female detainees from all three services but in practice the population is much lower (44 at the time of the inspection). The vast majority of detainees serve periods of detention following court martial or a summary hearing by their commanding officers. Most detainees have offended against Armed Forces law (employment rather than criminal law), and few are committed for offences that would have resulted in custody if they had been civilians.

The centre receives only those who have been sentenced periods of up to two years’ detention with those sentenced to longer held only briefly on their way to prison.

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A model custodial institution

The inspectors came to a very positive assessment of the MCTC.

“Although most of its detainees do not present the same challenges as those in civilian prisons or young offender institutions, it does hold some complex and challenging detainees – and there are lessons that the civilian system could learn from much of what it does.”

The main findings were:

  • The centre was very safe, there was very little violence or bullying, and vulnerable detainees were well cared for.
  • Security was proportionate and use of force and segregation were rarely used.
  • There was little use of drugs or alcohol, and enough good quality activity to keep detainees purposefully occupied.
  • For those detainees not returning to their units, resettlement services were well organised and the centre had good links with a range of service charities to support resettlement.
  • Unlike civilian prisons, detainees had good supervised access to the internet so they could directly search for and obtain accommodation, employment and other services themselves.

Inspectors were particularly impressed by the level of staff knowledge of the personal circumstances and sentence progression of the detainees in their care. There were formal one-to-one consultations between staff and detainees to discuss individual progress – in the inspectors’ survey, 92% detainees said that members of staff had checked on them personally in the previous week to see how they were getting on.

The main concern expressed by inspectors was that the centre was ill-equipped to deal with a small number of high-risk detainees including sex offenders.

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Conclusion

Apart from this concern about high-risk detainees, the inspectors concluded that the MCTC remained a “model custodial institution”. They found that reintegration and resettlement  was central to its work, and safety, mutual respect and  a purposeful environment the MCTC’s main characteristics.

The contrast with the inspectors’ findings on the state of adult male and young offender institutions could hardly be more stark.

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