A prison governor has ordered all probation staff off the premises after the local probation trust teamed up with a private security firm to try to take over the running of his jail.
Bob Mullen, the governor of Lindholme prison, told South Yorkshire Probation Trust that he was excluding all its staff to protect the commercial confidentiality of the rival public sector bid.
Mark Leech, editor of the national prisoners newspaper Converse said Mullen was known as ‘a maverick’ prison governor.
“Among prison staff he is known as a ‘Screws Governor’, meaning he always supports his staff, whatever they do, he was awarded the OBE in 2010 for his 30 years service, but he is also known as a maverick and this is an example of that kind of behaviour – his jail is one of eight that the Justice Secretary last year called ‘failing prisons’ which he put out to private tender.”
An internal probation service email published in The Guardian said: “The probation staff in the public sector prisons were effectively marched off the premises and had their identity badges and keys taken away and were effectively locked out of their place of work.”
The jail is among eight run by the public sector, along with one by private security firm G4S, which were put out for competition by Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke last year.
But the deal is believed to be the first where the probation trust would run the prisons alongside G4S, rather than simply as a subcontractor.
The internal memos seen by the newspaper said the governor’s decision had come as a “complete surprise” and was seen by probation staff as a “direct consequence of the decision by South Yorkshire Probation Trust (PT) to jump into bed with G4S”.
But a G4S spokeswoman said: “G4S and South Yorkshire Probation Trust have formed a strategic partnership to reduce reoffending in South Yorkshire.
“By teaming up with South Yorkshire PT as well as the respected voluntary sector organisation St Giles’ Trust, G4S is confident it can deliver a better approach to reducing reoffending, one which recognises the importance of community and prison working together to deliver improved outcomes for offenders and society, and the best possible value for money.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “Arrangements are in place to ensure that probation staff are able to undertake their duties and we are confident that the situation will be resolved swiftly.
“There is no risk to the public.
“The decision was taken locally and was not made centrally by Noms (the National Offender Management Service).”
He went on: “Competition should be widely applied, with public sector providers allowed to bid where we are competing local services.
“We are working with existing and new providers from the public, private and voluntary sectors, with contracts awarded on the basis of whoever is best placed to deliver our objectives.
“South Yorkshire Probation Trust (SYPT) has been funded to deliver probation services and the trust is fully delivering the required services.
“SYPT has not received additional funding for business development work, though the trust will have some capacity locally to work with others to develop innovative and efficient ways of working which meet local need.”
The governor’s ruling on South Yorkshire Probation Trust staff also applies to Moorland and Hatfield jails near Doncaster.
It is understood the reason South Yorkshire probation chiefs teamed up with G4S was because they thought the firm’s bid better reflected probation values than the public sector bid.
Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the probation union Napo, said: “If this is true it’s an extraordinary insult to the ethos of the public sector.”