Strangeways staff support bid for prison

PRISON OFFICERS Association members in the beleaguered Strangeways jail yesterday said they would ignore national union policy and co-operate with the Government's plans to privatise the prison system.

Staff agreed to support a commercial, in-house bid to run the jail because the alternative would be a private sector company taking over the prison.

Their support for putting in a prison service bid to manage Strangeways marks a shift from their national union's policy. To date the national POA has opposed all of the Government's attempts to force staff to participate in 'market testing' competitions to decide who should manage Britain's prisons.

Traumatic events in Strangeways, Manchester, scene of the worst prison riots in British history in 1990, forced the policy switch.

In July officers discovered that Walter MacGowan, the governor, had been poached by Group 4, a private security company, which is likely to bid for the contract to run Strangeways next year.

Mr MacGowan had been governor for only six weeks. His defection brought home to officers how vulnerable their jobs were to a private sector purge. They accused Group 4 of 'stealing' the governor after he had acquired the inside knowledge needed to allow a private sector bid to succeed.

Yesterday Robin Halward, the emergency replacement for Mr MacGowan, said that his first aim was to ensure that the Civil Service could fight off the bid from Group 4.

Mr Halward, the former governor of Armley Prion in Leeds, who began work yesterday, said: 'My specific brief is to prepare a bid in competition with the private sector for the prison service to continue running Strangeways when it fully reopens.

'If I succeed, the prison service will continue to run Strangeways. One of the first things I will be doing is assessing the prison. It is too early yet to give a clear view of what my plans for the prison are.'

He promised a 'positive and non-oppressive' regime for inmates and staff - if his prison service bid to beat off the sector was successful. He said he believed in treating prisoners humanely and providing a 'positive and challenging regime'.

However, senior staff in Strangeways have said that the threat of privatisation had destroyed all attempts to reform the notorious jail.

Managers' time was being taken up with preparing the in house bid, they said. They were in no position to deal with criticisms of 'oppressive security' and inhumane conditions in Strangeways.

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