Private jail firm fined over prisoners' revolt

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The Independent Online
THE American management of Britain's newest private jail has been fined by the Home Office for losing control of the prison during a mini-riot.

Guards at Blakenhurst, near Redditch, Worcestershire, have also been forced to abandon escorting inmates to some local courts because of the pressure of work in the prison.

Blakenhurst is managed by a consortium of the Corrections Corporation of America, one of the biggest private law enforcement companies in the United States, and the British construction firms John Mowlem and Sir Robert McAlpine. The consortium - UK Detention Services - is the first private prison company to be fined for poor management.

It was formed to take advantage of the Government's desire to privatise tens of millions of pounds-worth of prison building and management contracts. But it has been hit by a series of difficulties at Blakenhurst, its first British jail, which opened last year.

On 24 February prisoners took control of one block. The jail was damaged and 61 prisoners had to be transferred to state prisons.

In answer to a House of Commons question from Joan Ruddock, Labour's Home Affairs spokeswoman, Derek Lewis, the Prison Service director general, said last Tuesday that 'some parts of the prison were not fully' controlled and the services the company provided suffered as a result. Mr Lewis said he would seek a 'financial remedy' under the terms of its contract.

The Home Office would not say how much it had cut from payments to the jail managers, but one source said the fine was about pounds 50,000.

UK Detention Services maintains that its senior staff took 'textbook' action to contain the disturbances.

Meanwhile, the company's court escort service was criticised in January by a judge at Stafford Crown Court for failing to deliver two prisoners on time, and the job has been returned to public-sector staff.

Blakenhurst is one of three private jails in Britain. The Government announced last year that 12 private adult jails would open by 1996. Later this month the Commons will hear proposals to allow private companies to run new prisons for boys aged 12 to 15.

A Home Office internal security briefing has revealed that there were more assaults on staff and inmates in Blakenhurst than in any other jail.

Stephen Shaw, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: 'Blakenhurst gives the lie to the Government's dogma that the private sector is capable of running prisons more effectively than the state.'