Calls made for Sodexo's HMP Northumberland contract to be terminated

An image from the show. Undercover footage captured this prisoner being high on the drug called spice.
An image from the show. Undercover footage captured this prisoner being high on the drug called spice.

Calls have been made for the Government to terminate the contract of the company which runs HMP Northumberland and put the prison into special measures.

It comes after Monday night’s shocking and disturbing BBC Panorama exposé of life on the inside at the Acklington-based jail.

Coun Scott Dickinson

Coun Scott Dickinson

Undercover reporter Joe Fenton spent two months as a prison custody officer at the Category C adult unit.

The programme showed numerous problems at the prison, including inmates high on drugs, lapses in security and staff struggling to cope.

The prison has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons on numerous occasions over the last few years since Sodexo Justice Services took over in December 2013.

And following Monday night’s explosive documentary, fresh calls have been made to scrap the company’s contract.

Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery.

Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery.

Sodexo, which has been running the prison since December 2013, issued a full statement, vowing to investigate and take action. The Ministry of Justice has said it would investigate the 'extremely serious allegations' at the prison.

The jail is in Coun Scott Dickinson’s Druridge Bay ward. He said the footage confirmed in visual form ‘what we have said has been happening at the prison for a long time’ and added that he was distraught by what he saw and is concerned for staff.

He said: “There have been some serious breaches of the contract, so I believe Sodexo’s contract should be removed and the prison handed back to the state.

“I hope that the exposure makes the powers that be take action, deal with the issues and support the staff who are trying to keep us and them safe.

“I hope that the staff will get the support they need and order is restored to the prison and it is returned to the pre-privatisation standards.

“The Government has pledged more prison officers for England and Wales, but these will surely be for state-run prisons, so where does that leave privatised prisons and the staff who work there?”

Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery added: “I have written to Liz Truss, Secretary of State for Justice, and have called for an immediate review of the situation at the prison, including her giving consideration to withdrawing the contract immediately from Sodexo and putting the prison into special measures. This is a result of the privatisation of the prison.”

The jail houses up to 1,348 male inmates. Around 200 of the 588 staff at the prison took voluntary redundancy before Sodexo took over.

In November, shocking video footage emerged showing prisoners partying in a cell rave and apparently high on drink and drugs at the prison.

Last summer, a report published by the Independent Monitoring Board raised a number of issues about the prison, listing substance misuse as its most serious area of concern. But the report did praise aspects of the jail and said that welcome and encouraging progress had been made on safety.

The document was released a month after the Gazette reported staff concerns about safety at the prison, with one guard fearing it would only be a matter of time before someone was killed.