Freed prisoners from HMP Oakwood left lost in village, say residents

Inmates may have evaded security to access its roof twice in two months but it seems that freed prisoners are finding it trickier to actually leave HMP Oakwood.

The prisoners on the roof at HMP Oakwood
Prisoners on the roof at HMP Oakwood in November

Residents living near to the £150 million facility in Featherstone near Wolverhampton say they are being bothered for directions by groups of ex-cons who haven’t a clue how to get home once released. The issue is such a problem that South Staffordshire’s MP and a local councillor are demanding talks with prison bosses to ask for shuttle buses to be introduced to Wolverhampton and Cannock.

MP Gavin Williamson has said villagers do not want ‘ex-cons roaming their streets looking for a bus stop’.

Frank Beardsmore, South Staffordshire councillor for Featherstone & Brinsford, who has been a fierce critic of the management of HMP Oakwood, said: “I find it hard to believe that the biggest prison in Britain doesn’t have any system in place where prisoners know where they’re going when released.

“Since HMP Oakwood opened I have had a number of people saying they’ve been stopped by prisoners who simply don’t know where they are. They either ask for directions to go to Wolverhampton or Cannock.

“Sometimes there are large groups of them wandering around Featherstone and Brinsford and this can be intimidating for our elderly residents.”

Mr Williamson said he will be meeting with prison bosses next month.

He said: “My understanding is HMP Oakwood is interested in bringing in a shuttle service, even at a cost to them.

“Most prisoners who are released get picked up by family and friends but some rely on public transport. What people living in the villages don’t want is ex-cons roaming their streets looking for a bus stop.

“I’m not sure what stage it is at but another possibility would be for the bus route to make regular stops there. It makes sense that prisoners that have been released go to Wolverhampton or Cannock where there are better transport links than rural South Staffordshire.”

G4S, which runs HMP Oakwood, insisted that inmates are not released in large groups and that measures are taken to ensure they don’t hang around the local area.

It is the latest issue for the prison and comes following a barrage of criticism.

A controversial report released in October revealed that some prisoners serving time at HMP Oakwood developed a drug problem while inside, as it emerged it had been nicknamed ‘Jokewood’.

Following the report, prisoners staged two rooftop protests within weeks.

It prompted Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan to call for G4S to be sacked from running the prison if it failed to improve standards in the next six months.