Private jail lost control of inmates

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The Independent Online
Poorly trained staff at a private jail allowed inmates to run out of control, according to the Government's Chief Inspector of Prisons.

A damning report into the £40m Blakenhurst Prison in Hereford and Worcester found bullying, prisoners wandering the corridors out of hours and inadequate control by warders.

Judge Stephen Tumim, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, also criticised a "confusion of cultures" caused by the different managerial styles of the British and American companies that share the running of the jail.

Inmates appeared to endorse Judge Tumim's findings of a lack of discipline. One told the Independent: "It's known as `Blagenhurst' because inmates can get away with most things. It's the best jail I've been in."

The report is published today after delays coinciding with the recent spate of Prison Service disasters - including escapes, riots and the discovery of smuggled guns and explosives. But yesterday Derek Lewis, director general of the service, denied that it was in crisis, a claim fuelled by leaked reports highlighting serious concerns that security and management failures were hampering reform.

Judge's Tumim inspected Blakenhurst last May, a year after it opened. The jail is run by United Kingdom Detention Services, a consortium of companies including the Correction Corporation of America.

The report criticises the too-rapid intake of prisoners to the new jail, which was described as a "recurring mistake" on the part of the Prison Service managers. It also says there was no policy for the control of bullying and a central shop area had become a "mugger's paradise".

It described how two inmates posed as visitors to escape - one wearing women's clothes and a wig. In another incident, a set of keys went missing and at least £25,000 of damage was done. "Systems should have been more effective and inexperienced staff should have been trained better," said Judge Tumim. But Mr Lewis yesterday insisted that Blakenhurst, which houses 600 male remand and sentenced prisoners, did not have a "cushy" regime.

He said it was now maintaining high levels of security, control and training and giving excellent value for money in saving £1.5m a year. "We have a good secure prison where they are now exercising effective control and providing an active and positive regime," he said.

The inspection team praised staff for their quality, enthusiasm and politeness and the education services were described as "outstanding". It also said control over prisoners had improved since the inspection.

David Evans, general secretary of the Prison Officers' Association, said: "I am not surprised that the Chief Inspector has been so critical of Blakenhurst. Privatisation means profit comes first. That means cutbacks in staff and training."

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