‘Super-prison’ plans questioned by watchdog over violence risk

Reuters / Paul Hackett

Reuters / Paul Hackett

The chief inspector of prisons has called on MPs to review security problems at Oakwood in Staffordshire after inmates staged a riot. The facility was riddled with drug abuse soon after opening three years ago.

In an inquiry into
problems at Oakwood, chief inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick
said contractors and security firms should learn lessons from the
Wolverhampton prison before ‘super-prison’ projects

Last year, 15-20 inmates threatened staff and damaged cells in a
riot that lasted nine hours.

The determined way the director and staff [at Oakwood] have
made improvements following significant criticism should be
,” Hardwick said in his report published on

However, the difficulties Oakwood and other new prisons
experienced immediately after opening resulted in unacceptable
risks and very poor outcomes for the prisoners held at that

“There are plans to open a number of large establishments in
the coming years,” Hardwick added, suggesting ministers ensure
lessons from Oakwood are learned and “factored into plans for the
opening of other new establishments.”

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Relations between Hardwick and Justice Secretary Chris Grayling,
however, have been tense and ministry officials haven’t indicated
whether there will be a review of the construction of large
prison facilities.

Hardwick’s concerns about Oakwood and other similar projects
could pose problems for Grayling’s plan to open the first
super-prison in the UK in 2017. The planned facility will hold
over 2,000 inmates and cost around £150 million to build.

The report into Oakwood said staff had “become more
as a result of the violence, but raised
concerns about the levels of force used against prisoners, which
were “almost double that of similar prisons.”

They also expressed worries about the high levels of bullying and

Michael Spurr, chief executive of the National Offender
Management Service, said the Oakwood director and his staff
deserved “real credit for their work to establish a safe and
decent regime.”

There is still more work to do and the recommendations from
this inspection will be used to build on the recent
he added.

The Howard League for Penal Reform, which opposes the
warehousing” of prisoners in large institutions, has
described the Wrexham project as a “titanic mistake.”

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