Impressive journalism by the FT has uncovered the scandal of Berwyn Prison, costing £220m (say, a thousand homes unbuilt) - but still half empty two years after opening, because of multiple cock ups. It has the dubious claim of being the first prison actually designed to be overcrowded, thus ignoring all the lessons of the Mubarek Inquiry (a teenager horribly murdered by a racist with whom he was forced to share a cell), just to undercut the private sector and so avoid open competition. It is more violent, yet more costly, than other such prisons.
Since the prison opened, 338 ambulances have been sent there, the police have been called 135 times and the fire service 27 times, the FT’s FOIs show. Use of force, supposedly a last resort, is running at an exceptionally high level. “The partner of the prisoner seeking a transfer said she thought some young staff had “got a bit of power and it’s gone to their heads” says the FT.
The healthcare unit is a disaster. The health team’s report described a “lack of compliance with infection prevention and control standards……and unsuitable design of facilities ”, which made treating patients “unsafe” and “required a complete rebuild of some areas”. Further, the FT reports that prisoners have been taken off prescription anti-depressants, anti-psychotics and painkillers without their consent, which some inmates say has driven them to self-medicate with illegal drugs.
An independent report lambasts the design of the prison generally, including no proper ventilation in the house blocks and problematic noise levels.
The workshops are another disaster. “They were not ready when the prison opened, and lacked basics like electrical work, fixtures and fittings. “The lack of work spaces has probably been the greatest challenge for everyone who lives and works at Berwyn,” the then Governor wrote in his anniversary message to staff a year after the prison opened. “The procurement process has not yet gone as we would have hoped or planned [and], consequently, there are too many men left on the communities during the day.” Today, two full years after the prison opened, the workshop buildings are still not ready. “There were just so many delays, it was ridiculous,” said Mark Gilbert of recycling company Emerald Trading, one of the original subcontractors, who became fed up of waiting and pulled out.
Imagine how the Guardian, Labour, unions would be frothing over this if G4S ran it! Obviously, they would say, the private sector is incompetent, wasteful, even wicked! But it’s public sector - so they keep quiet. If there is one thing I utterly despise, it is keeping quiet about wrong-doing because done by ‘your’ side. The National Audit Office and Justice Committee ought to look into this.
I was formerly Finance Director of the Prison Service and then Director of the National Offender Management Service responsible for competition. I also worked in the NHS and an IT company. I later worked for two outsourcing companies.
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