Prison privatisation failure

G4S – £150m Featherstone super-jail plagued by problems within four weeks of opening
Only 60 out of 1,600 inmates admitted after kitchens fail to work, electrical short circuits and showers that switch on in small hours
Prison officers outnumber inmates at HMP Oakwood by three to one amid problems at the showpiece jail
Only 60 inmates have so far been moved into a new showpiece £150m privately run prison because it is breaking down just four weeks after it was opened.

The G4S-run HMP Oakwood, at Featherstone, near Wolverhampton, is supposed to accommodate 1,605 category-C male inmates, making it one of the largest prisons in England and Wales.

But the new jail has been plagued with teething problems since it opened a month ago. These include £7m super-kitchens that have yet to produce any food, showers that turn on in the middle of the night and an electrical system that short circuits when the lights are turned on.

It was expected that HMP Oakwood would take more than 200 inmates in its first month, building up to 1,600 by the autumn, to make it among the first of the new generation of “super-jails”. But the problems have meant that 200-plus staff are looking after just 60 inmates.

The prison was originally earmarked to become one of the Titan prisons – designed to hold 2,500 inmates – but the plans were scaled back after fierce opposition. The Oakwood complex has actually been built with space to house 2,000 inmates.

According to staff sources at the jail quoted by the Birmingham Post, every time lights are switched on in cell blocks the prison’s power system trips out. Showers also come on automatically, spewing scalding water across the floors of the accommodation units without warning, even though no one is housed in those cells.

The kitchens have so far remained unused because of combined power and water failures. Meals have had to be brought in from outside.

Mark Leech, of the prisoners’ newspaper Converse, said staff had told him the prison was a shambles.

“We are getting many letters from prisoners at Ryehill Prison near Rugby – which, like HMP Oakwood, is owned and operated by private prisons company G4S – who, having been told they were going to be transferred to Oakwood, have now been told the move is off and they have been shunted to other prisons around the region because of systems failures at the new jail,” said Leech.

A G4S statement admitted there had been problems at the showpiece jail: “As with any new build of this scale, there have been snagging issues. We have contingencies in place to deal with these issues and we continue to steadily fill the prison. The issues have all been rectified and we remain on track to be at full capacity in the autumn.”

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