Oakwood Prison was today branded ‘out of control’ and in need of an urgent review as an investigation got under way into a rooftop protest by inmates.
The Express & Star can today reveal prison officers raised concerns more than a year ago about a lack of training, and continue to claim it is under-staffed.
Officers have told parish councillors that prison gangs are running the institution and that it had been just a matter of time before any of them escaped on to the roof.
Yesterday’s rooftop protest by three prisoners lasted more than five hours and came just days after the jail was branded ‘Jokewood’ in a damning official report.
Today it has emerged:
- Prison officers have been voicing their concerns since the £150 million prison opened in April 2012
- Councillors say they feel ‘hoodwinked’ because bosses have repeatedly insisted the prison is well run and secure
- An urgent inspection is being called for into the running of the prison.
The protest began at around midday yesterday and involved the inmates scaling the roof at the prison in Featherstone, south Staffordshire.
They were coaxed down after five hours by staff who were lifted up to the roof on cherry pickers. G4S, which runs the prison, said no-one had suffered any injuries during the incident. It has not yet been revealed what the prisoners were protesting about.
Councillor Frank Beardsmore, chairman of Featherstone and Brinsford Parish Council, claimed there had been a ‘cover-up’ at the jail and demanded an immediate inspection.
He said the parish council raised concerns with G4S that the facility was under-manned and staff were under-qualified earlier this year.
Councillor Beardsmore said: “We do feel there has been a cover-up, from this week’s report to what was actually said in the meetings that they were having with us.
“We feel that if action had been taken when we asked, maybe this could have been avoided.
“We’ve raised concerns since it has been open.
“We’ve had prison officers approaching the parish council with their concerns about their training and what has been going on there.
“It has gone out of control because in my opinion the prisoners have more power than the officers and they are running the prison.
“This protest has not surprised me and has been a long time coming.”
Fellow parish councillor John Brindle added: “We sent a letter to our MP Gavin Williamson raising concerns that the prison was under-manned and the staff were under-qualified.
“We said G4S was not fit for purpose. That letter to the MP was sent on to G4S and they sent us a letter back saying everything was alright and ‘we’ve done this before’.
“They have hoodwinked the MP and us.”
Mark Gettleson, from The Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “We think that it is very worrying. This is a prison that is out of control, that is chaotic.
“This is a prison where levels of violence and self harm are exceptionally high, levels of restraint are at twice the level of other prisons. These and the protests we are seeing today are symptoms of a chaos in what must be Britain’s worst prison.”
In this week’s damning report released by the Chief Inspector of Prisons, it emerged that inmates had told inspectors during a surprise visit that it was easier to get their hands on drugs than soap, while a report found that one in seven inmates develop a drug problem inside.
Some prisoners also told how they felt unsafe in the jail, while staff were reported to be ‘passive and compliant, almost to the point of collusion’. South Staffordshire MP Gavin Williamson has been critical of the prison as it has come under fire in recent weeks.
He said the protest – combined with recent reports including one by the Care Quality Commission which criticised healthcare standards – was ‘very concerning’.
Mr Williamson added: “It is clear that there are some serious problems that need to be addressed, and questions that need to be asked.
“I will be writing to the prisons minister to ask for a proper investigation into what has gone on today. There are also some serious questions that need to be put to G4S.”
Michael Spurr, chief executive officer of the National Offender Management Service, added: “The chief inspector has made clear there is much more to do to achieve the high standards we expect but operating systems are now fully established and I am confident that the improvements will be achieved.”
A G4S spokesman said: “All the officers in prison go through the training as laid down by the Ministry of Justice.”