Private jails 'of serious concern'
The Government has "serious concerns" over the performance of two privately-run prisons, new documents have revealed.
Out of 134 prisons in England and Wales, only three were rated "of serious concern" by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) - HMP Oakwood, run by G4S in the West Midlands, HMP Thameside, operated by Serco in London, and the Prison Service's HMP Winchester in Hampshire.
The poor ratings come shortly after G4S and Serco came under fire for overcharging the MoJ by tens of millions of pounds for electronic tagging of criminals, triggering a Government-wide review of all contracts held by the two FTSE 100 giants. A further 12 prisons, which remain open, were "of concern", while the remainder were either rated as having an "exceptional performance" or "meeting the majority of targets". Elsewhere, every probation trust in England and Wales was rated "good" or "exceptional" by the MoJ.
The ratings prompted further calls for Justice Secretary Chris Grayling to reconsider his plans to privatise a large chunk of the Probation Service, under what he has dubbed a ''rehabilitation revolution''.
The likes of G4S and Serco were set to bid for a wide range of payment-by-results contracts to supervise low to medium-level offenders across England and Wales. The providers will be judged by reoffending rates.
Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "Now the Government has evidence to show how well the public probation service is performing, with all probation trusts rated as good or excellent by the Ministry of Justice, it should pause to reflect on its ill-conceived plans to hand most probation services to the private sector. Professionals across the justice system have expressed concerns that the pace and scale of the proposed changes could result in a fragmented service which reduces accountability and puts public safety at risk.
"Questions need to be asked about why the same private companies who are running two of the three worst-performing prisons in England and Wales, according to the Ministry of Justice's own ratings, still seem to be expected to take on the majority of probation contracts."
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: "There could not be a more damning indictment of the Government's fanatical obsession with justice privatisation than its own performance figures. Last autumn, the Justice Secretary hailed G4S Oakwood as an example of what the private sector could achieve in prisons. We agree. The prison, ranked joint-bottom in the country, is wasting millions and creating ever more victims of crime."
A G4S spokeswoman said: "Opening up a new prison is a complex process, but having successfully done this on previous occasions, we are confident we can achieve high standards at Oakwood. We have been running prisons in the UK for 21 years, and until recently were operating six prisons - of which three are rated Level 3, and one, HMP & YOI Parc, is rated at Level 4.
"I believe the score for Oakwood does not reflect much of the excellent work being done by our team at the prison, nor does it reflect the prison's excellent safety record, with no serious incidents having taken place since its opening. We are working with the Ministry of Justice, particularly at addressing the issues of the health, education and learning and skills provision which are delivered by third parties not appointed by or accountable to G4S."