Bosses from scandal-hit HMP Oakwood prison admitted there had been ‘vast swathes’ of inexperienced staff when it first opened, but insisted standards were now being met and declared: “We want to be good neighbours”.
An alleged riot, rooftop protests, drug-filled tennis balls being thrown over the walls and a series of damning reports have damaged public confidence in the £150million jail.
But chiefs from G4S, while admitting there will 'always be incidents' like the ones seen in recent months, insisted they were now on target to meet standards.
During last night’s meeting of Featherstone and Brinsford Parish Council, G4S confirmed that a new minibus shuttling prisoners away from Oakwood would be introduced – after complaints ex-cons were getting lost around Featherstone once released.
Oakwood’s deputy director Andy Sleight fiercely defended the prison’s record and told councillors that staff had endured a lot of flak.
“A lot’s been made of our inexperience,” he said.
“And at the start 39 per cent of our staff had some form of custodial experience, so there was a level of experience there.
“There were vast swathes of inexperience, I accept that.”
Parish council leader, Councillor Frank Beardsmore, said the council would identify areas that it could work with G4S on and added: “We’ve got to work together.”
Earlier this month Government chiefs flatly denied there had been a cover-up to hide the scale of the trouble at HMP Oakwood, amid suggestions of a ‘full-scale riot’.
The prison - dubbed as ‘jokewood’ - has suffered endless trouble and scandals in recent months.
But after the meeting Mr Sleight told the Express & Star that the recent disorder was ‘completely out of the blue’ and that big investments were being made at the prison.
“There’ll always be incidents,” he said.
“But the recent one happened completely out of the blue. It could happen anytime and in any prison.
“This meeting was about us taking positive action and improving communication.
“We want to be good neighbours.”
And of the oft-criticised staff at Oakwood, Mr Sleight said they were ‘growing in confidence’.
“All of our staff are up to speed,” he added.
“They’re a million miles away from where they were and they’re keen to learn.
“We encourage our staff to set an example.
“At Oakwood we’re meeting the contractual standards asked of us – all our 10 contract indicators are green.
“There are really exciting, innovative things happening in the prison.
“There’s a lot of investment going on that people don’t know about.”
Community engagement chief at G4S, Leroy Bonnick, added: “The fact is a prison was built here – we’ve always been happy to be part of the community will continue to be so.”
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has previously described Oakwood as being the blueprint for future prisons.
However the prison was recently branded as a ‘dangerous and unsafe’ place to work by the Prison Officers Association, which urged the Government to take control of the 1,600-inmate South Staffordshire prison.
Last night's meeting came as academics criticised the design of Oakwood, recommending removing bars on prison windows.
Birmingham University lecturer Dominique Moran compared the prison to an 'ant farm'.
However a G4S spokeswoman said the firm had no involvement in the design of the prison.