Oakwood Prison: High levels of violence and bullying

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There are still high levels of bullying at the country’s largest prison, near Wolverhampton, and the use of force is almost double that of similar institutions, a report has found.

Inspectors said the G4S-run HMP Oakwood, which received a damning report two years ago, also has a high number of self-harm incidents.

But HM Inspectorate of Prisons said there have since been “significant improvements” at the prison, which opened in 2012, with the overall level of violence falling and a much “calmer” environment.

In 2013 the category C prison which houses more than 1,500 men was the scene of rooftop protests, while last year there were claims of a “cover up” after trouble broke out on one wing and took nine hours to be resolved.

The findings of the latest inspection, which took place in December, are being published on Wednesday and show general improvements, some of which are attributed to staff becoming more experienced leading to improved relationships between the prisoners and those who work there.

While health services have also improved inspectors said they had been affected by staff shortages.

The report also found that although support for those with substance abuse issues is “very good”, the high levels of bullying are often related to the availability of legal highs and associated debt.

Chief inspector of prisons Nick Hardwick said the prison’s difficulties could provide lessons for the future as other establishments are opened.

“There is more to do but the determined way the director and staff have made improvements following significant criticism should be acknowledged,” he said.

“However, the difficulties Oakwood and other new prisons experienced immediately after opening resulted in unacceptable risks and very poor outcomes for the prisoners held at that time. There are plans to open a number of large establishments in the coming years.

“I recommend that ministers undertake and publish a review of the difficulties Oakwood and other new prisons experienced after they opened, and ensure that lessons learned are factored into plans for the opening of other new establishments.”

Michael Spurr, chief executive officer of the National Offender Management Service, said: “I am pleased that the chief inspector has highlighted the significant improvements that have taken place at Oakwood.

“There are challenges involved in opening any new prison and the lessons learnt are always carefully assessed to improve any future processes.

“The director and his staff deserve real credit for their work to establish a safe and decent regime through a strong commitment to reducing violence, supporting vulnerable prisoners and providing better work, training and resettlement opportunities.

“There is still more work to do and the recommendations from this inspection will be used to build on the recent improvements.”

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust said: “After its first few turbulent years, it’s good to hear that HMP Oakwood has turned the corner at last and is now a safer, more settled establishment.

“Before government races to open more giant jails at rock bottom rates, there are important lessons to learn about the harm done by filling prison places too rapidly, taking on so many inexperienced staff and failing to provide a constructive regime.”

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said: “It is welcome news that conditions have improved slightly at Oakwood since the last dreadful inspection took place, but there is still a long way to go until it is up to the standard taxpayers expect of a state of the art prison.

“David Cameron’s Government rushed to award the contract for running this prison to G4S and then pressed the jail into service before it and its prison officers were ready to cope with inmates. This led to many prisoners being released without being rehabilitated properly.

“Given the Government’s plans to push ahead with a super prison in Wrexham, it’s absolutely crucial that the same mistakes aren’t repeated and public safety is not put at risk.”

Jerry Petherick, managing director of G4S custodial and detention services, said: “opening any prison is a complex process and our experience shows that it takes time to develop the experience of staff, fully embed the prison regime and establish links with local partner agencies.

“Today’s report recognises that the hard work of our team at HMP Oakwood is paying off with inspectors finding that the prison has ‘turned the corner’ and expressing confidence in our plans for the future.

“I am particularly encouraged that inspectors acknowledge the innovative programmes we have introduced to work with prisoners to help them confront their negative behaviour and improve safety.

“There is still work to do but we are confident that our investment in technology, infrastructure and training for prison custody officers will continue to strengthen our performance.

“We are committed to working with the Ministry of Justice, local agencies and partners from across the criminal justice system so that the prisoners at Oakwood are better equipped to turn away from crime when they leave.”

‘Tornado’ Prison Officers Allege Oakwood Riot Cover-up

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Britain’s biggest privately-run jail downplayed a ‘full scale riot’ which saw inmates take over an entire wing and booby-trap the doorways, a prison officer has claimed – causing one commentator to say that if true G4S should lose all their prison contracts.

Prisoners were in a nine-hour stand-off with guards earlier this month at the £150 million HMP Oakwood near Wolverhampton, run by G4S and nicknamed ‘Jokewood’ for its alleged lax security.

But while the firm insisted just ’15 to 20′ were involved, an officer who dealt with the incident has said it was a ‘full-scale riot’ with many more.

Speaking to the BBC, the specially-trained officer said he was part of a ‘tornado team’ drafted in to tackle the prisoners.

The anonymous man told Hannah Barnes of The Report, to be aired tonight on BBC Radio 4: ‘Our briefing was that the prisoners were armed and dangerous and that it was a very large number of prisoners and they had completely taken over an entire wing of the prison.

They’d interfered with locks to try and prevent staff getting into the wing and they were destroying everything they could get their hands on. I did hear prisoners shouting threats, saying, “We’re ready for you, come on – we’re gonna get you” and words to that effect.”

He said debris and iron bars had been thrown to the floor in Cedar Wing and tripwires had been strung up at neck, chest and leg height.

He added: ‘I would sum it up as a full-scale prison riot and we were very lucky that it only took place on one unit and didn’t spread.’

G4S has firmly denied the allegations.

Another officer, who also remained anonymous, told the BBC staffing at the prison was so low it put suicidal inmates at risk – and sometimes suicide watch records were falsified due to a lack of time.

G4S told the BBC any allegation of falsified records would be fully investigated.

One of Britain’s largest with 1,600 inmates, Oakwood Prison was described as a model for future prisons by the government yet has been beset by controversy.

In October inspectors gave it the lowest possible rating – quoting one prisoner who said drugs were easier to get hold of than basics like soap.

Staff were passive and ‘compliant almost to the point of complicity’, they said, and they found hard core pornography on cell walls despite the jail holding some 300 sex offenders.

Responding to the prison officer’s claims, a G4S spokesman told the BBC the incident was still under investigation but it was a case of ‘concerted indiscipline’ confined to one wing, and the jail is improving.

‘The incident was brought under control just after 2am without injury to any prison officers, although one prisoner has been treated for minor injuries.

‘Reports of prison staff being taken hostage are completely untrue. The safety of our personnel and those prisoners in our care is our top priority, and we are grateful to our colleagues who were able to help us bring the incident to a close safely, and effectively.

‘Established incident procedures were followed correctly and worked as they were meant to.

‘An investigation has now commenced into the reasons for this disruption, as well as a criminal investigation.’

Speaking to the Today programme, Jerry Petherick, managing director for custodial and detention services at G4S, said it was more difficult because Oakwood was being treated as a test case by politicians and the public.

He said: ‘I think it would be useful for people to acknowledge the very good work my staff are doing at Oakwood.

‘There was an instance of concerted indiscipline that was dealt with. For a period of time that wing was occupied by prisoners. It was a number of hours as we accumulated the necessary resources to contain the incident.

‘I would like to see Oakwood come out of the media spotlight to give people the opportunity to develop the work. If you’re operating in the media spotlight everything becomes magnified.’

Mark Leech editor of Converse the national newspaper for prisoners in England and Wales said if the cover up claims proved to be true it was time for G4S to lose its prison contracts.

Mr Leech said: “I absolutely get why Jerry Petherick wants to see Oakwood come out of the spotlight, G4S has shareholders for whom this constant criticism must be deeply concerning coming as it does on top of the tagging fraud scandal, devastating criticism of Oakwood from the Chief Inspector of prisons, not to mention the Olympics debacle – the solution however is not to blame the media, but for G4S to get a grip on the prison’s management.

“Tornado teams sent to Oakwood to qwell the riot would have been fully briefed on what was known based on what incident commanders on the ground were reporting – that briefing now needs to be published.

“If the cover-up claims prove to be true G4S should lose its prisons contracts – it would be a dishonesty that simply could not be overolooked nor tolerated.”

Reports at the time claimed up to 40 inmates had taken two guards hostage during the riot – before demanding McDonald’s meals were brought to their cells.

Yet G4S and the Ministry of Justice dismissed these claims as ‘completely untrue’.

A joint statement read: ‘The disruption, which was confined to one wing of the Category C prison for male prisoners, began just after 5pm on [January 5] as prisoners were out of their cells on association, and involved around 15-20 prisoners, who threatened officers and caused damage to cells and prison property.

‘A number of prisoners returned to their cells voluntarily. The Ministry of Justice was informed immediately, and standard procedures were initiated to deal with the incident, with rapid response teams deployed. Staffordshire Police were also informed.

‘Owing to damage caused to cells, a number of prisoners were moved to other wings and to other prisons in the area.

Oakwood Incident Resolved

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An incident lasting more than five hours at the country’s largest prison has been resolved, security firm G4S has said.
The trouble broke out on a wing at HMP Oakwood in Featherstone, near Wolverhampton, yesterday evening, but the operator of the privately-run prison would not give any further details.
The incident was contained by staff before being resolved shortly after 2am.
HMP Oakwood, which houses more than 1,600 category C prisoners, was the scene of a number of rooftop protests last year and was slammed by inspectors during a surprise visit.
A G4S spokesman said: “This incident was resolved successfully at 2.10am.
“Police and internal investigations will now take place.”
It would be inappropriate to comment further until these have been completed.”
The spokesman said earlier the company was applying standard procedures to manage the incident.
A spokesman for Staffordshire Police said the force was offering support and assistance to G4S.
The prison – the largest in England and Wales – opened in April 2012 as a training prison next to the existing HMP Featherstone and HMP Brinsford near Wolverhampton.
In a report published in October, HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) reported inexperienced staff and high levels of violence and self-harm at the jail – dubbed ”Jokewood” by prisoners.
Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick warned here were ”real risks if matters were allowed to drift” at the prison.
At the time G4S said improvements were being made but admitted launching the prison was a “complex and challenging operation”.
G4S – well-known for its botched handling of its Olympics security contract – has been under review by the government following revelations it overcharged for criminal-tagging contracts.
The government has since announced that electronic monitoring will handed to another firm on an interim basis at the end of the financial year.ends

G4S Accused Of Shocking Prisoner Abuse

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Staff at one of South Africa’s most dangerous prisons, run by British firm G4S, have been accused of “shocking” abuses and of losing control.

The South African government has temporarily taken over the running of Mangaung prison from G4S and launched an official investigation.

It comes after inmates claimed they had been subjected to electric shocks and forced injections.

G4S says it is investigating the allegations.

The BBC has obtained leaked footage (above) filmed inside the high security prison, in which one can hear the click of electrified shields, and shrieking. It also shows a prisoner resisting a medication.

Researchers at the Wits Justice Project at Wits University in Johannesburg say they have collected accounts of electric shocks and beatings from almost 30 prisoners during a year-long investigation.

“Some said they would pass out when the shocks became too intense,” said Ruth Hopkins, a journalist with the Wits Justice Project.

She said inmates also complained about suffering broken limbs and other serious injuries.

One former prisoner told the BBC electric shocks were used as “torture”, while a sacked security guard said water was thrown over inmates to increase the impact of the charge.

A lawyer for some of the prisoners has condemned a culture of impunity amongst prison staff, according to the BBC’s Africa correspondent Andrew Harding.

G4S has blamed an upsurge of violence at the prison on a labour dispute, our correspondent adds. More than 300 guards there were sacked this month after going on an unofficial strike.

Nontsikelelo Jolingana, the acting national commissioner of the Department of Correctional Services, told the BBC her department had launched a formal investigation into the claims of abuse.

The South African prison authorities announced last month they were temporarily taking over the running of the prison near Bloemfontein, in the central Free State province, after the private security contractor “lost effective control of the facility”.

Andy Baker, regional president of G4S for Africa, said administering and prescribing injections was not the domain of G4S staff, but of independent medical staff.

When asked about allegations of electric shocking and beatings, he told the BBC there had “never been an abuse of this type or nature” to his knowledge.

In a statement to the BBC, G4S said while the video could not be verified, the company “takes such allegations very seriously and will be launching our own investigations into the matter”.

Mark Leech editor of Converse the national newspaper for prisonrs in England and Wales described the allegations as ‘deeply worrying’.

He said: “If true then it is vital that people responsible are charged and stand trial over these deeply worrying allegations – but its important also to remain focused and not allow emotion to cloud the issue.

“The South African government has taken back control of the prison from G4S which is what I believe they should be doing in this country in relation to HMP Oakwood – which seems to be in complete disarray.”