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Friday, October 22, 1999 Published at 12:25 GMT 13:25 UK


Group 4 loses prison contract

There are seven privatised jails in England and Wales

Group 4 has become the first company to lose its contract to run one of Britain's privatised prisons.

The BBC's Jane Peel: "Group 4 lost out to an in-house bid"
An in-house team from the Prison Service will next year take over the running of Buckley Hall, a category C jail in Rochdale, after winning a 10-year contract.

However, Premier Prison Service will remain at the privatised Doncaster Prison, Prisons Minister Paul Boateng has announced.

Soon after Buckley Hall jail opened in 1994, it was criticised by the Prison Reform Trust for security problems and loss of staff.

But Group 4 spokesman John Bates said on Friday that he was "shocked and disappointed" at the news of the changeover at the jail, which holds more than 350 inmates.

[ image: Boateng: Plans further privatisation]
Boateng: Plans further privatisation
He said: "There has been much praise of the management and operation of the prison during the five years the prison has operated successfully, with few incidents."

However, Prison Service director general Martin Narey said it won the contract because of the quality of its education programme and "outstanding drugs strategy".

The victory for the Prison Service marks its first contract win for nearly five years.

Highest suicide rate

Doncaster Prison has been run by Premier since it was opened in 1994.

In March this year, it was identified as having the highest suicide rate in England and Wales, with 11 suicides in five years.

The Chief Inspector of Prisons, Sir David Ramsbotham, has criticised the jail for taking too great a mix of prisoners, with convicted and unconvicted juveniles, lifers, and vulnerable prisoners all rubbing shoulders.

[ image: Doncaster: To remain in privatised hands]
Doncaster: To remain in privatised hands
As a result conditions at the jail, built to house 771 prisoners but holding 1,044, were deteriorating, he said.

However, overall he praised the establishment, saying it was well-run with a number of good practices and offered good value for money.

Prisons Minister Paul Boateng said more contracts would soon be coming up from 2000 at Manchester, the Wolds Prison, East Yorkshire, and Blakenhurst in Worcestershire.

Buckley Hall and Doncaster were examples of how privatisation could benefit UK jails, he said.

'Benefits of competition'

"The success of the Buckley Hall in-house bid is evidence, if it were needed, that public sector prison staff are capable of delivering the same high standards and levels of efficiency as their private sector counterparts," he said.

"There will be more competitions coming up as contracts fall for renewal and I would expect the quality of bids, from both the public and private sector, to be as high as those announced today.

"The public and prisoners benefit from such competitions as standards are raised and costs controlled."

The BBC's Jane Peel: "The in-house Prison Service bid was described as offering excellent quality"
He added that any prisons perceived to be failing would in future face privatisation.

"I have asked the director general to put forward proposals for developing this further and look forward to receiving these in the New Year," he said.

There are currently seven privatised prisons of the 135 jails in England and Wales.

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