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13 Aug 2014

Doncaster prison: Serco to blame for disastrous deterioration

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on Doncaster prison, which is operated by Serco.

Inspectors found that levels of violence in Doncaster were four times higher than in comparable prisons. Many of the prisoners at risk of self-harm were on a basic regime or held in segregation. There have been three suicides at the prison since April 2011.

Staff were overwhelmed and lacked control, and one wing had been damaged by fire and vandalism during a riot. A significant number of prisoners spent more than 22 hours a day locked in their cells. In one case a man had not received essential heart medication for 10 days.

Doncaster is very overcrowded. It is designed to accommodate 738 prisoners, but at the time of the inspection it was holding 1,132.

Research by the Howard League has found that the number of prison officers in Doncaster was cut by 10 per cent in three years – from 204 in September 2010 to 184 in September 2013. Public sector prisons have faced much greater staff cuts.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: This is the latest in a worrying series of inspection reports showing how prisons which were once performing bearably have deteriorated to the point where they are now chaotic and dangerous. Prisons in the public sector have been hit by deep budget cuts which have impacted on safety, but Doncaster does not have that excuse. Serco’s board should be made to explain why this violent, filthy, drug-infested prison is failing so miserably. Still at the centre of a major fraud investigation for its role in the tagging scandal, Serco has once again shown itself to be very good at winning contracts and very bad at delivering them. This disastrous report is the final straw. Doncaster should no longer be left in the hands of a multinational which puts shareholders’ interests before public safety.”

Notes to editors

  1. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
  2. A copy of the Doncaster inspection report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website.
  3. The scale of prison staffing cuts across England and Wales is shown in the Howard League’s research briefing paper, Breaking point: Understaffing and overcrowding in prisons.


Rob Preece
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