On Sunday (Jan 5th) prisoners are alleged to have barricaded a wing of the building and caused damage to cells. After continuing for 10 hours, the situation, involving up to 50 prisoners according to the BBC but only 20 from G4S sources, was eventually brought under control once prison officers in riot gear entered to regain control. G4S seem to be playing it down as an isolated, one-off incident with custodial and detention services managing director Jerry Petherick stating that staff at the site are doing a “superb job” and a statement saying that there was a “good atmosphere” at the site. If a prison has a “good atmosphere” I dread to think what the company would make of a funeral.
But Oakwood has seen a worrying amount of issues arise in the recent past concerning the management of the facility. In October last year a surprise inspection found that the prison was failing to tackle drugs; a rooftop protest was staged by prisoners in October and November of the same year; and a leaked document from the National Offender Management Service revealed that in November 18 drunk prisoners threatened prison officers. No wonder the site is described as having a “good atmosphere”; with the drink and drugs it sounds as though the inmates are having parties.
The NOMS documents were only discovered after the incident on Sunday occurred, prompting shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan to question if G4S and the Ministry of Justice were holding back more information which would have a detrimental effect on the Coalition’s privatisation plans. Having heard only vague comments from G4S and George Osborne on the overall situation at Oakwood perhaps their silence highlights their guilt. The prisoners themselves claim that there is general mistreatment as well as a poor quality of food. Criticisms from both inside and outside Oakwood really apply pressure to G4S and the government for authorising the contract.
The fact remains that G4S is a business, so obviously seeks to make as many profits on its investments as possible – after all, the more money the company makes the more money its chief executives can take home. This means that privately run prisons such as Oakwood are run as cheaply as possible with corners having to be cut in order to make the ventures economically viable for the companies choosing to punish those who have broken the laws of the land. G4S, therefore, has infected Oakwood with woodworm; and with known problems at Oakwood being just the tip of a potentially very devastating iceberg, how many more private prisons are sacrificing safety and security for profits?
G4S was of course also involved in providing security for the London Olympics which turned into a complete fiasco after the company failed to deliver the trained staff that it had been contracted to do. With private companies such as G4S and Serco increasingly involved in public life by being given responsibility for security tasks (prisoner transport and police custody staff, for example) the obvious failings at Oakwood prison could be a lot more widespread. Doesn’t bare thinking about really, does it?