Securicor is fined pounds 50,000 for running of suicide-prone jail

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A PRIVATE jail that has been hit by suicides and violence since it was opened nine months ago has been fined pounds 50,000 by the Prison Service for failing to be run properly.

Richard Tilt, the Director General of the Prison Service, yesterday said that things were "not right" at Parc jail near Bridgend, South Wales, which is run by Securicor. The penalty was imposed for Securicor's failure to tell prison officials that about 60 inmates had refused to return to their cells as part of a protest in February. Extra staff had to be called in from Cardiff and Swansea jails to help.

Mr Tilt yesterday said that a further fine was being considered for Parc's failure to provide enough cells for inmates. Earlier this month, the prisons minister, Joyce Quin, ordered an inquiry into the running of the jail.

The prison uses a hi-tech system to hold some 750 inmates who are issued with "swipecards" to open doors and buy goods. The refusal by inmates to return to their cells came shortly after fighting by prisoners on the exercise yard and the suicide of Dallas Lee, 27, serving life for murder, who was found hanged in his cell - the second suicide since the pounds 80m jail opened last September.

A spokesman for Securicor said: "There's now an action plan in place to strengthen the running of the prison."

The move against the private jail came as the Prison Service was praised for meeting all but one of its 11 key performance targets set by the Government. Despite record numbers of people being locked up there were fewer escapes and positive drug tests. The only category it failed on was the target set over assaults on staff.

But Mark Healy, national chairman of the Prison Officers Association, criticised the figures, arguing that the targets were set at a low level, virtually ensuring that they could be met. An example given was the target time that prisoners should spend out of their cells being cut from 12 hours a day to 10.

Prison chiefs are to press for improved security in courts after it was disclosed that three-quarters of the 72 inmates to escape from escort or court were by defendants jumping over the dock. Just 23 inmates escaped from prisons during 1996-97.