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G4S awarded £300m contract to run new mega-jail

Flora Thompson, PA Home Affairs Correspondent
·3-min read

G4S has won a £300 million Government contract to run a new mega-prison for 10 years.

The latest category C jail will be named HMP Five Wells after a group of historic wells surrounding Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, where it is located.

The prison cost £253 million to build, will house 1,680 inmates and is expected to create 700 jobs.

It is now set to open in early 2022 – on the site of a former jail which closed in 2012 – after the 2021 opening was pushed back because construction was delayed by adverse weather and “excess asbestos” which needed to be removed.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) picked the security company as its preferred choice to be awarded the contract in July but the decision was met with a legal challenge from a rival bidder the following month.

G4S was last year stripped of its contract for running Birmingham Prison seven years early.

The jail, one of the largest in the country, was taken back under state control, having plunged into crisis under private management, according to a damning report by Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke.

His findings detailed scenes likened to a war zone in which inmates walked around “like zombies” while high on drugs and flouted the rules with impunity.

G4S also pulled out of running Brook House immigration removal centre near Gatwick Airport and the Medway secure training centre in Kent after BBC’s Panorama programme broadcast undercover footage of inmates and detainees allegedly being mistreated.

But the company successfully runs four other prisons – Altcourse, Parc, Rye Hill and Oakwood – all of which have won praise from inspectors.

Just days after it emerged that G4S was the front-runner for the Wellingborough contract, the company agreed to pay more than £38 million in fines over an electronic tagging fraud following a probe into its financial reporting to the MoJ.

Privately-run prisons are “among the best-performing across the estate and have been consistently praised by independent inspectors”, according to the MoJ.

It said 95% of scores of jails managed by G4S show their performance as good or reasonably good.

An MoJ spokesman said: “G4S-managed prisons have also brought innovative new approaches to offender rehabilitation, including a cutting-edge families intervention programme and peer-led initiatives, praised by prison inspectors for building ‘excellent personal and social skills’ so prisoners contribute in jail and are prepared for resettlement.”

Graham Levinsohn, G4S regional chief executive for the UK and Middle East, said the “mutual aim” of the company and the MoJ is to make sure the new prison “becomes the blueprint for innovation, rehabilitation and modernisation in the Prison Service”.

Labour’s shadow justice secretary David Lammy said “serious questions” must be asked about why the Government has handed the contract to G4S, claiming its past performance “illustrates the failings of privatisation in the justice system”.

He added: “Its well-publicised failure to manage HMP Birmingham led to reports of violence, unsanitary conditions, drink, drugs and the bullying of staff.

“To deliver justice and keep the country safe, prisons must be well-run, disciplined environments that punish offenders while enabling them to rehabilitate.”