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18 Feb 2015

Oakwood: Years of failure will have created thousands of victims of crime

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on G4S-run Oakwood prison, published today (Wednesday 18 February).

When inspectors visited Oakwood in June 2013, they found high levels of violence and self-harm. Prisoners even claimed that “you can get drugs here but not soap”.

Today’s report, based on an announced follow-up inspection conducted last December, noted some improvements but rated Oakwood as “not sufficiently good” at keeping prisoners safe and providing purposeful activity.

Self-harm remained a serious problem – there were 358 recorded incidents in the six months prior to the inspection – and the number of men on suicide watch was very high.

Inspectors noted that the prison was calmer than before and staff had become more experienced, but bullying and victimisation were rife, mainly linked to drugs, medicine and debt. The worst violence was found on the vulnerable prisoner wing, where many prisoners felt unsafe. Use of force incidents were double the number in comparable prisons.

Use of segregation was high and had increased since the last inspection. The regime on the segregation unit was poor and only one in four prisoners said they had been treated well by staff.

Healthcare had improved since the last inspection, but still suffered from chronic staffing shortages.

Drugs were still easily available, with use of the legal high ‘black mamba’ being a particular problem. More prisoners than elsewhere said that they had developed a problem with drugs at the prison. Many reported that alcohol was available.

One in five prisoners was locked up during the working day. This was an improvement since the last inspection, but still not good enough. Much of the work was unskilled, mundane and without accreditation. Teaching quality varied significantly and was rated as “requires improvement” by Ofsted.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The powers-that-be seem to be living in a Wonderland where there is no recognition that there are still safety problems in Oakwood. Thousands of people have gone through the prison. Many have come out more dangerous and even acquired a drug addiction. Oakwood only opened in 2012, but the years of failure will have created thousands of extra victims and the powers-that-be are ignoring the plight of those victims.

“We are told that lessons are learned but every single private prison ever opened has started with huge problems – and some both continue to have, and to cause, huge problems. The government is planning to squander vast public funds on building a super-jail in Wrexham but is refusing to learn the lessons from the social, financial and personal harm caused by Oakwood.”

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 Oakwood inspection report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website.


Rob Preece
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