Operator and charity react to report on Northumberland prison

HMP Northumberland.
HMP Northumberland.

The private-sector operator has said it is focused on improving safety, while a campaigning charity has offered a scathing assessment following a critical report of HMP Northumberland.

As reported by the Gazette earlier this morning, the report of an unannounced inspection by HM Inspectorate of Prisons on the facility, near Acklington, was released today, which raises concerns about the ‘deterioration of safety outcomes’.

In late 2013, the establishment was taken over by the private-sector provider, Sodexo, and was concluding the transition process at the time of this inspection.

A Sodexo Justice Services spokesman said: “We welcome the feedback from the Inspector’s visit in September 2014. Following the inspection, we immediately developed an action plan to address the issues raised.

“We are pleased that the report recognises the prison has been undergoing enormous transition over the last few years and highlights many areas of positive performance, for example in areas of security, respect and healthcare.

“Our key focus remains on improving safety in the prison, which is a priority, and on continuing to provide more work for prisoners as part of the overall rehabilitation process. We have seen a 39 per cent increase in prisoner working hours in the first year of Sodexo operation – this will continue to increase as we implement our development plans.

“Sodexo Justice Services’ track record in our other prisons shows that we continuously improve our performance and positive safety records. We are confident that we will achieve similar success at Northumberland.”

However, the Howard League for Penal Reform, the oldest penal-reform charity in the world, offered a much more critical view.

Chief executive Frances Crook said: “Northumberland prison is supposed to be a ‘national resource’ to help turn around the lives of indeterminate-sentenced prisoners and those serving time for sex offences. But this report shows it is failing miserably.

“This is a prison where prisoners get drugs and alcohol easily, but find support and preparation for release harder to come by. The number of assaults is high and rising, and inspectors found some prisoners had sought sanctuary in the segregation unit because they felt unsafe.

“We have become used to reading critical reports on overcrowded public-sector prisons which have seen deep cuts to staff and resources. Northumberland is neither publicly run nor overcrowded. What is Sodexo’s excuse? It is extremely worrying that Sodexo runs the prison with so many problems and has also been handed the contract to run community sentences from next month. This is another example of the shambles created by the privatisation of prisons.”