Oakwood prison 'on the verge of disaster'

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Prisoners are being left unfed, drugs are openly being smoked and the regime is chaotic at G4S-run Oakwood prison, according to a letter by 'a concerned relative' in the June edition of the prisoners newspaper Inside Time.

According to the letter:

'there are drugs being brought in and smoked on the wings in full view of the staff. The smell apparently is so bad that those who have no desire to partake in drugs are suffering with headaches...

'Food runs out and some inmates don't get fed... The staff are ill equipped to deal with the situation and would appear to be giving in to demands of prisoners instead of setting down a regime and sticking to it.

'No-one knows what a sentence plan is for each individual, some are being denied access to their children even though there were no previous issues in this respect.

A number of the inmates, the letter writer claims, want to return to a public sector prison, which in their experience are better run, with more experienced staff and a more structured regime.

G4S shareholders are expected to be raising their concerns about Oakwood at the G4S AGM today.

The letter echoes many of the concerns raised by the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick, in his inspection report on Oakwood published in October 2013. The report is available to download below.

In his Introduction Mr Hardwick wrote that is was 'unquestionably a concerning report... The inexperience of staff was everywhere evident... Too many prisoners felt unsafe'.

The Introduction is reproduced in full below, with the most striking passages highlighted.


'Oakwood is a new training prison that opened in April 2012 under the management of G4S. Located near Wolverhampton in the West Midlands, it is a huge and structurally impressive facility capable of holding more than 1,600 category C prisoners. Fourteen months since it opened, this report records the prison’s first independent inspection.

'This is unquestionably a concerning report. The prison had many advantages in terms of the quality of its design and facilities, but there was a palpable level of frustration among prisoners at their inability to get even basic issues addressed. The inexperience of the staff was everywhere evident, and systems to support routine services were creaky, if they existed at all. The quality of the environment and accommodation mitigated some of the frustrations and without this risks could have been much greater. Against all four of our healthy prison tests, safety, respect, activity and resettlement, the outcomes we observed were either insufficient or poor.

'Newly arrived prisoners were admitted through a well-designed reception area and housed in a welcoming first night centre. However, the focus of this important facility was diverted by its need to also provide an additional sanctuary for the vulnerable. Induction arrangements were weak. Too many prisoners felt unsafe and indicators of levels of violence were high, although we had no confidence in the quality of recorded data or in the structures and arrangements to reduce violence. Even the designated units meant to protect those declared vulnerable were not working effectively and too many prisoners on these units also felt unsafe. Levels of self-harm, some linked to day-to-day frustrations as well as perceived victimisation, were high but again processes to support those in crisis were not good enough.

'Security arrangements facilitated a category C regime and were generally proportionate but there was clear evidence of illicit drug and alcohol use, as well as the improper diversion of prescribed medication. Mandatory drug testing results were high but potentially even worse when the large number of test refusals were taken into account. Segregation was managed reasonably and not used excessively, although there was a significant use of force in the prison. The supervision of use of force was improving but many of the recorded inadequacies in its application were evidence of staff uncertainty and inexperience.

'The best feature of Oakwood was its impressive environment and accommodation, which were important for the prisoner experience, as most other aspects of daily living were characterised by frustration. Prisoners were unable to access basic facilities, such as cleaning materials and kit, and the applications system barely worked. Staff-prisoner relationships were not respectful and very worrying. Prisoners had little confidence in the staff to act consistently or get things done. Many staff were passive and compliant, almost to the point of collusion, in an attempt to avoid confrontation, and there was clear evidence of staff failing to tackle delinquency or abusive behaviour. The promotion of diversity was poor, with systems and structures to address issues again not functioning effectively. Most minorities had worse perceptions, and perhaps most obviously troubling, was the failure to meet the care needs of some prisoners with disabilities.

'The provision of health care at Oakwood was very poor - there was no assessment of need; systems did not work; care needs were not met; and the administration of medication was in chaos. The health provider has, as a consequence of our inspection, received a regulatory enforcement notice from the Care Quality Commission.

'Some prisoners experienced reasonable amounts of time out of cell, but for the majority who were not fully employed, access was considerably more limited. Well over a third of prisoners were locked up during the working day and only just over half were in activity at any one time. Much of what was on offer was judged to be inadequate. Leadership in learning and skills was poor. There were not enough activity places, and those that were available was not fully used. Vocational learning was generally better than education, much of which was poor, but there was not enough of it. Too much work was menial. Punctuality, attendance and behaviour in learning and skills all required significant improvement.

'The delivery of resettlement and offender management was uncoordinated, with offender management work very poor. Many prisoners had no sentence plan or effective offender supervision. Offender supervisors were not sufficiently trained and often redeployed to fill vacancies elsewhere in the prison. Some work in support of the resettlement pathways was better, although the prison urgently need to make strategic decisions about how it was going to start to address the offending behaviour risks of its near 300 sex offenders.

'There is a lot to do before Oakwood is operating any where near effectively. Positively, the prison is an excellent facility. We found a management and staff team that were working hard and seemed keen to do the right thing. A new director had recently been appointed and, in our view, had analysed what needed to be done accurately. But the prison urgently needed a plan to retrieve the situation and there were real risks if matters were allowed to drift. Prisoner frustration needed to be addressed. Systems that delivered basic services had to be made to work. Work to build the competence and confidence of staff was required. Health care had to be delivered effectively. The quality of management information had to improve and the prison needed to engage and communicate more effectively with prisoners. Finally, the prison needed to create structures that will ensure progress is monitored, that changes are coordinated and that improvement is sustained and embedded.'

Nick Hardwick
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
July 2013