POA: Sodexo Boss Admits Prison Bidding Fails
Private prison race to the bottom ‘doesn’t work’
'Privateers' race to the bottom in running prisons “doesn’t work,” a top contractor has admitted. Sodexo justice services operations director Mike Conway said government contracts should be awarded with fixed budgets rather than having private bidders undercut one another.
“Instead of commoditising the prison market, that’s the path we should be going down,” he said on the fringes of the POA union conference on Wednesday night. If we end up going down that path in 10 years’ time … we’ll have very different consequences. We’ve got the challenge of trying to run prisons cheaply, both public and private, and we’ve found to our cost that doesn’t work,” he said.
Asked by a prison officer about private and public prisons competing to cut costs, Mr Conway said: “It’s not a costcutting race between the public and private sectors, it’s been a cost-cutting race between the bidders.”
The meeting was also addressed by G4S UK security and detention managing director Jerry Petherick. G4S came in for fierce criticism last December after rioting broke out at HMP Birmingham, which has been under its control since 2011. Mr Petherick insisted the riot was not down to a particular failure of his firm or the private sector, pointing to other disturbances in state-run jails last autumn.
“Unless we get the staffing profiles fully staffed, we’re always going to be up against it,” he said. But HMP Bedford delegate Martin Field scorned: “Your purpose for being here is to make money. The purpose of us being here is to provide a service.”
Mr Petherick replied: “I won’t shy away from the fact that I have to look after my shareholders.” He said the firm considered its investors as “stakeholders” alongside prisoners and staff. “You’re kind of indicating that the only thing we’re worried about is profit,” he added. “That isn’t so.”
The bosses were also grilled by POA general secretary Steve Gillan for not recognising his union at a number of private jails, saying they had instead struck a “sweetheart deal” with another union, Community. He challenged them to bring in multi-union recognition. “[Community] don’t understand the criminal justice system,” he said.
Mr Conway insisted it was “not a sweetheart deal” and he had been “very impressed” with Community.
This from the Daily Telegraph:-
Prison Service boss hired to manage troubled G4S detention centres
G4S has hired the man in charge of negotiating private contracts for government prisons to run its troubled detention services division. Paul Kempster is expected to join the outsourcing firm later this month and will oversee the five prisons G4S manages for the Government, as well as two immigration removal centres and a secure training centre for young people.
Mr Kempster is currently head of custodial services contract management at Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, the part of the Ministry of Justice which manages prisons in England and Wales. As part of his role, he has been responsible for awarding contracts to private firms including G4S, Serco and Sodexo to run prisons in the UK. Work to privatise British prisons began in the Nineties.
However, outsourcing the running of offender services to private companies has not been without controversy. G4S has suffered amid high-profile scandals, including losing control of HMP Birmingham in December, which resulted in the most serious prison riot since inmates revolted at Strangeways in 1990. The incident caused an estimated £2m of damage and around 500 prisoners had to be moved. Last year it was revealed that G4S had been fined at least 100 times for breaching its prison management contracts, which it has held since 2010.
As chief operating officer, Mr Kempster will report to Jerry Petherick, managing director for G4S’s custodial and detention services division. Mr Petherick said the appointment puts this business “in a strong position to respond to today’s challenges and nurture innovation. Paul brings tremendous experience from more than two decades in leading and managing detention environments in the public sector and will be a huge asset to our established team,” he added.
As well as five prisons, G4S holds Government contracts to run two immigration removal centres, Brook House and Tinsley House, both near Gatwick Airport. These centres accommodate people who are about to be deported from the UK. As part of his new role, Mr Kempster will also be in charge of the running of Oakhill near Milton Keynes, a secure training centre which houses young people aged 15-17 who are on remand or sentenced to custody.
A recent report from education assessor Ofsted found that the overall effectiveness of the centre “required improvement”. Inspectors found while record numbers of young people were taking GCSEs, the mix of staff experience at the centre had left to “inconsistency and variability in practice”. G4S is currently in the process of selling the contract to manage Oakhill, which it holds until 2029, as well as another secure unit in Medway, Kent.
Finally, this from the BBC website:-
Safety improvements were not made at a prison with the highest suicide rate in England and Wales despite a spate of deaths, a psychiatrist has told the BBC. Dr Elizabeth van Horn quit her job at Woodhill Prison in April, saying staff shortages had made change impossible.
Families of some of those who died are due to learn if judges will order the government to make the prison safer. The Ministry of Justice said it could not comment ahead of the court ruling.
Since 2013, 18 inmates have killed themselves at Woodhill Prison in Milton Keynes. The jail houses both Category A prisoners and convicts from the local area on short sentences. The courts, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman and the prison's own independent monitoring board have all raised concerns. These include chronic understaffing, over-reliance on agency and temporary staff, while, as well as suicides, assaults on both staff and inmates have also risen in recent years.
Early last year Dr van Horn was asked to go to Woodhill, working two days a week. The experienced clinical psychiatrist had already spent six years working in other prisons, including Pentonville and Wormwood Scrubs, in London. Her first impressions were not good. "I was very struck by the lack of staff. There were lots of gaps in the discipline staffing regime, and anecdotally, certainly for the last six to eight months, quite a lot of the staff were quite newly trained and inexperienced."
Asked if anything had changed at the prison following each suicide, as management had promised families and the courts, Dr van Horn was clear: "No, not really, not in terms of an obvious change. It's not a question of not knowing what needs to be done better, because often these inquests throw up the same issues - but how do you achieve that? And I think not having a stable workforce is a fairly primary problem in terms of achieving these goals. You can only get things done if you've the workforce to do it."
Staff shortages can see inmates locked up for 23 hours a day, a major cause of mental health problems, she told the BBC. "Particularly for people with pre-existing mental health problems, that is an added burden...And when they complain about it, they are often seen to be attention-seeking, but in fact, they can't cope with that degree of isolation. What they need is to have meaningful activity, more social contact and less time isolated on their own."
The families who brought the legal action at the High Court have been supported by the charity Inquest, which has become exasperated with management at the prison. "Woodhill is a graphic example of a prison system that is in crisis," said the charity's director, Deborah Coles. We have no proper mechanism to ensure that recommendations made by inquests, by Prison Ombudsman investigations, are followed through, that action is actually taken".
Suicides in jails in England and Wales almost doubled since 2012 to 120 last year, while prison officer numbers have fallen by more than 4,500, official figures show. Overall, nearly £1bn has been cut from the prison and probation service in recent years. But, in what might be seen as an acknowledgement that the cuts have gone too far, the Ministry of Justice now plans to recruit 2,500 new prison officers.
But, according to one former inmate, staff quality matters as much as quantity. "We're getting the wrong sort of staff," said Jamie Blyde who has been in and out of Woodhill for over a decade. He was in a neighbouring cell-block last summer when his brother Daniel Dunkley killed himself.
Jamie knew seven of the 18 prisoners who killed themselves at Woodhill. "We used to get all the ex-forces, guys that could be annoying and hard to be around but they were straight and you knew where you stood with them. They were safe and would do everything by the book. We don't seem to have as many of them anymore, we're getting a lot of under-qualified people, a lot of people that are not meant for the job."
Families lose High Court battle over HMP Woodhill deaths
Relatives of two men who died in Woodhill Prison have lost their High Court case over the rate of self-inflicted deaths at the jail. Ian Brown, 44, hanged himself in his cell at the category A prison in Milton Keynes in July last year, while Daniel Dunkley, 35, died later the same month.
A total of 18 men have died at the jail since 2013 while seven men killed themselves just last year. Mr Brown's mother and sister, Pearl Scarfe and Julie Barber, and Mr Dunkley's brother, Jamie Blyde, who is himself a prisoner, wanted the court to order Woodhill's governor and the Secretary of State for Justice to comply with the requirements of the Prison Service Instructions (PSIs). They cover management of prisoners at risk of harm to self, to others and from others, early days in custody and medical emergency response codes.
On Tuesday, Lord Justice Irwin and Mr Justice Garnham rejected the judicial review claim which the governor and the Secretary of State for Justice said was "neither appropriate nor necessary".