Group 4 wins 33m pounds contract to run new privatised jail

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GROUP 4, the company which has been criticised for its prison management and escort work, has won a pounds 33m contract to run Britain's newest privatised jail, it was announced yesterday.

The Prison Service said that Group 4, which already runs one jail, had beaten off competition from four other bidders to run Buckley Hall, in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, for five years.

The prison, the fourth in Britain to be handed over to private management, will house 350 low- risk convicted prisoners. The first batch will arrive in December.

Derek Lewis, director-general of the Prison Service, said yesterday that although the Group 4 bid had not been the lowest, it showed 'a very much higher level of confidence in delivery than the lower bid'. He added: 'This bid combines a very active and purposeful regime for prisoners coupled with imaginative new plans for dealing with bullying, intimidation and drugs. It offers the best overall value for money.'

The selection of Group 4 is controversial. The company suffered a series of highly publicised escapes when it took over the prison escort service in Humberside and the East Midlands last year. Its running of the Wolds remand prison on Humberside has also been criticised.

Judge Stephen Tumim, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, criticised the 'lethargy and inertia' of inmates while Sir John Bourn, the Comptroller and Auditor General, warned of significant drug abuse.

Last month, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee was told that omissions, underestimates and mistakes meant that the Wolds was costing taxpayers pounds 1m a year more to run than the original tender from Group 4. However, Sir John Bourn did praise the facilities at the Wolds, and Judge Tumim complimented the management on staff-prisoner relationships, the time prisoners spent out of cells and visiting opportunities.

Yesterday, Jim Harrower, chief executive of Group 4, said: 'There are many mistakes we have corrected and we have changed procedures to make things better. Our experience of running the Wolds remand prison has been invaluable in developing our ideas for Buckley Hall and we look forward to implementing what will be a pioneering and positive regime.'

David Evans, general secretary of the Prison Officers' Association, said: 'This is a triumph for ideology over common sense. The decision has been taken despite evidence that privatisation is failing.'