Prisons: Watchdog praises Group 4 jail

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The Independent Online
A privately run jail criticised by the Prison Service yesterday received a glowing report from the Chief Inspector of Prisons. Sir David Ramsbotham said the decision to designate Buckley Hall Prison, near Rochdale, Lancashire, which is run by security firm Group 4, as needing special management attention was "undeserved".

But in a report on the jail he again expressed concern that random drug- testing in prisons was driving inmates to use heroin instead of softer drugs such as cannabis. Sir David said he was delivering a "thoroughly good report" on Buckley Hall, which Prison Service chiefs had previously earmarked as a problem jail. "Nothing we saw suggested this was in any way appropriate for Buckley Hall and indeed, not only is the stigma attached to it undeserved, but, in view of the large number of prisons which are way below the standard of Buckley Hall but have not been made so subject, it undermines the credibility of the process."

Sir David blamed earlier problems in the prison on a too rapid influx of inmates after it was opened in 1994. He criticised the way those difficulties were seized upon and exploited by groups opposed to private prisons on "ethical and political grounds". But he also expressed concern about the scale of the drugs problem at Buckley Hall which mirrored other jails

Both staff and inmates had suggested prisoners were switching from cannabis to heroin because it was detectable for a much shorter period after it was taken. The Prison Service should complete research currently under way into the issue as a "matter of urgency", Sir David said. "If the results suggest the introduction of mandatory drugs-testing has affected for the worse prisoners' drug-taking behaviour, then the policy to review drug abuse may have to be reconsidered".