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'Ministers must halt all privatisation' following HMP Birmingham scandal

Labour warns outsourcing is 'putting the public in danger'

MINISTERS must halt all privatisation following their crisis intervention at the stricken G4S-run Birmingham prison, Labour said today.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said outsourcing was now “putting the public in danger,” warning: “Birmingham Prison, Carillion and East Coast Rail have all collapsed because of failed Tory privatisation.

“This has to be a wake-up call and a turning point in how our public services are run so we can protect the public instead of private profit.”

Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said the crisis at HMP Birmingham should mark the end of the “flawed idea of prison privatisation” and called for an urgent independent inquiry into privatisation throughout the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

Prisons Minister Rory Stewart was forced to announce that the government would step in at the crisis-hit Victorian jail after a recent visit from HM Inspectorate of Prisons revealed a “dramatic deterioration” in the last 18 months.

In a scathing report, Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke said privateer G4S had “completely failed” to keep prisoners or staff safe at the jail, where drug use was so rife that he actually felt “physically affected by the drugs in the atmosphere.”

Mr Clarke also called for a “thorough and independent assessment” of what had gone wrong in the contract between the government and G4S, which has run the prison since 2011.

The MoJ also released a damning report into a 14-hour riot at the prison in December 2016, which “could and should have been prevented.”

The June 2017 report, previously withheld for security reasons, said that there were “several windows of opportunity in the early stages of the incident … when a hold could have been established, preventing the subsequent escalation.”

It concluded that “staff had, over the preceding year … become worn down by the chronic staffing shortages at HMP Birmingham, caused by a combination of high levels of sickness, attrition and disorganised deployment.”

Tory minister Mr Stewart said the situation at HMP Birmingham was shocking but resisted calls for an inquiry.

But Mr Burgon said: “This shocking situation underlines the dangerous consequences of the ever-greater privatisation of our justice system. HMP Birmingham was the first publicly run prison to be transferred to the private sector. This should be a nail in the coffin for the flawed idea of prison privatisation.”

Prison Officers’ Association (POA) general secretary Steve Gillan stressed that prison guards had been placed in “an unacceptable position by failed government policies” and “once again it will be brave prison officers picking up the pieces.”

Chairman Mark Fairhurst added that the situation “highlights the need to keep prisons in the public sector” and called for an end to privatised prisons.

He said: “The days of private companies putting profits before staff and prisoner safety must stop.”

Howard League for Penal Reform CEO Frances Crook said: “Contracting out and commissioning public services to private companies involves massive bureaucracy and monitoring and, when the state fails to invest sufficient resources to oversee the companies, you get scandals like Carillion, G4S Birmingham, G4S child jail Medway [and] probation.”

But she agreed with Mr Stewart, saying: “We don’t need an inquiry, that just wastes time. We know what went wrong in G4S Birmingham prison. The point is to fix it.”

Staffordshire University criminology professor James Treadwell said: “HMP Birmingham did not go wrong after the riot in 2016, it went wrong after it was privatised in 2011.

“But let me also say that there are a lot of state-run prisons that are not too much better now with austerity and post ‘benchmarking’ are on the edge like just Birmingham.”

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