prison2The privately-run Thameside prison in London was badly mismanaged and there were no serious plans to sort out the problem of gang-related fights, according to a report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP). Serco, which runs the prison, agreed with the findings.

The report said that there was far too much violence within the prison and staff were unable to manage it. Serco had decided to lock the facility down, meaning that some prisoners spent up to 23 hours a day in their cells.

HMIP said: “The prison had taken the unusual step of effectively locking down the prison, severely curtailing the regime and in particular prisoner access to time unlocked. The prison had done little to evaluate the success of this quite extreme strategy and at the time of our visit there seemed only vague plans to restore the prison to normality.

“The data on assaults, security report reports and use of force that we examined did not show any improvement from previous months and we were told that some prisoners got around restrictions by planning to attend activities so that they could become involved in fights.”

In the May issue of Public Servant magazine: Leadership will be key as prisons go private, says Hardwick

Serco’s custodial services director Wyn Jones said: “These are early days at the prison, and we accept completely the report’s recommendations for future improvements. Among many areas of good practice across the prison identified by the report, we are especially pleased that it commended the extent to which prisoners feel safe in HMP Thameside. Much remains to be done, but this is a very positive start.”

The Howard League for Penal Reform described the conditions at Thameside as “truly alarming”, with inexperienced staff often having to resort to physical force in an attempt to keep order.

Director of campaigns Andrew Neilson said that prisoners had no confidence in staff and Thameside was clearly “a large private prison out of control”.

He added: “Less than a week after Justice Secretary Chris Grayling demanded that prisoners work harder to earn privileges, this flagship private prison is revealed to be locking up inmates for 23 hours a day because they don’t have anything constructive to do.

“With a pathetic lack of activities and barely any vocational training available, Thameside is doing nothing to help prisoners turn their lives around. It is merely making matters worse. This is what happens when you hand the justice system over to vast multinational corporations, who put cost-cutting and the interests of their shareholders ahead of concern for public safety.”