Serco: The Long Road To Rehab

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Contrary to popular opinion that is not the Chief Executive of Serco trying to get away from his shareholders. This is in fact a diagram printed in the Daily Mail (in 2009), illustrating the cunning manner in which Julian Chautard was able to elude the custody of the same  vigilant Serco employees who had ferried him to Pentonville Prison, from Snarebrook Crown Court. One can only wonder if these were the same vigilant employees driving the ‘cost-effective’ van from which two Austrailian prisoners escaped, probably not. I can’t imagine Serco retaining their services if that was the case, even if defective vans were to blame. Which makes it all the more surprising that they have elected not to blame their poorly paid employees for the companies abysmal performance this year.

Yes folks, according to the Financial Times, Serco has sustained ‘reputational damage’ caused by the ‘untruths’ told about the number of prisoners they were transporting to court, as well as further ‘untruths’ about the number of offenders they were electronically tagging. ‘Reputational damage’ imagine that, in the City of London a corporation was caught out telling lies and the authorities didn’t just give them a wink and a nod, they were punished and suffered ‘reputational damage’.

I’m amazed and enthralled because I cannot recall a single person who ever worked as an internee in a City of London firm and went on to work elsewhere, who hadn’t picked up one spurious practice or another. In fact it seems to me (and I may well be wrong in my perceptions but there you go), that many of them had picked up only one lesson from their time in some of these ‘cream of the league’ firms, how to skillfully cheat, lie and manipulate your way to success….without getting caught out and punished for it.

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They learn’t those lessons no doubt from watching companies like the Royal Bank of Scotland, complicit in the funding of the extraction of oil from Canada Oil Sands. In the words of the Cree Indians a company that is complicit in ‘the biggest environmental crime on the planet’. Or perhaps they took their lessons whilst being dandled on the knee of Bear Stearns, yet another company that worried about it’s ‘reputation’ prior to it’s failure and subsequent financial collapse. They certainly won’t have acquired that knowledge at the feet of G4S, who like Serco, has rapidly discovered how unforgiving the general public can be when faced with the sight of private sector companies, devouring their taxes like overfed sharks whilst giving little or nothing back.

Pretax losses of £7.3 million, the loss of the Dockland’s Light Railway Franchise and the scaling back of work managing Australia’s detention centres, have all played a part in facilitating Serco’s demise. One could almost resent feeling sorry for them were it not for one thing, an admission by the Chief Executive that the company’s problems were the result of poor leadership and not of an incompetent workforce. A company man shouldering the blame,rather than shifting it to his employees and then slitting their throats to save his own skin (figuratively speaking), in this day and age who ever heard of such a thing?

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Super Prisons: Saving Money But At What Cost?

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‘For all the advances we have made, and are making in education, we still, every year allow thousands more children to join an educational underclass-they are the lost souls our schooling system has failed. It is from that underclass that gangs draw their recruits, young offenders institutions find their inmates and prisons replenish their cells’
– Michael Gove

285, that’s the number of exception reports submitted by government run secure training centres concerning warning signs or serious injuries ,detected during or following the use of physical control in these units ,between 2006 and 2011, on average that works out to 57 incidents a year.
111, that’s the number of incidents of physical restraint per month, in privately run secure training centres, from 2011-2012.
68 per month, that’s the number of incidents of physical restraint which result in injury. These are just the facts I’m quoting here mind,I may need to resort to more emotive language later, but let us continue.

In the financial year 2012-2013, 19,140 prisoners were forced to share a cell designed for one person. A further 777 prisoners were made to sleep three to a cell, in cells designed to accommodate only two prisoners.
The worse affected prison? HMP Wandsworth, followed by Altcourse, Doncaster, Birmingham, Pentonville, Preston, Manchester, Nottingham, Durham and Elmley.
17%, the percentage by which prison officer numbers have dropped in four years. 20,000, the totalnumber of prisoners kept in overcrowded conditions between 2012-2013. So you have a toxic combination of prisoners who didn’t want to be in prison in the first place, kept in cramped conditions, closely overseen by demoralised prison officers who are overstretched because they’re understaffed.

Chris Grayling’s solution to all the statistics? ‘A reconfiguring of the prison estate’ the shutting down of four prisons, HMP Blundeston, HMP Dorhester, Northallerton and Reading prisons. Thus increasing the number of slashed ‘unstrategic and uneconomic’ prison places from 2,800 to 4,200 and in the process reducing the overall prison budget by another £30million a year. A 2,000-place prison is to be built in Wrexham, North Wales and a second ‘super-prison’ may very well be built in the south east. Secretary of State for Wales David Jones has greeted this news with ecstatic approval listing the many commercial benefits that will accrue to Wrexham as a result of one of the UK’s first ever super prisons being located there. Others have been less enthused and here’s why.
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Professor Andrew Coyle, a former Governor of Brixton prison has argued that
‘There is clear evidence from the chief inspector of prisons that prisons should ideally hold no more than 500 prisoners in order to function at their most effective.Going beyond that number pretty much amounts to warehousing.’

Imagine an environment in which there are low numbers of experienced prison officers due to Ministry of Justice lay-offs and a large number of experienced
prisoners. An environment in which prisoners who have been wrongly categorised could pass under the radar, until they either harm themselves or assault another prisoner and where once they are referred for help they may find themselves caught up in a vast back log of similar cases. Imagine a regimen which sees a sudden upsurge in prison numbers, because this is after all a ‘super prison’ and it can therefore take the extra capacity; then imagine the resultant problems as levels of sick leave increase amongst the staff who are hardly ‘super-human’. Imagine a situation in which only 10% of prisoners have been allocated a ‘plan’ detailing the steps the prison intends to take in rehabilitating them and eventually getting them ready for a return to some sort of viable existence in the outside world, that excludes the need to committ crime. If you think that this is an exaggeration then read the report written on HMP Oakwood by an independent monitoring board appointed by the Ministry of Justice. The largest UK prison built so far it was originally supposed to house 1,600 prison inmates, it now houses 1,800, a number that the prison staff were never expecting to have to cope with.
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‘Say you need 3,000 staff for a super prison. Where do they come from, does it plough jobs into the community or does it become an almost single employer?’ asks Paddy Scriven, general secretary of the Prison Governors Association. And she’s right to ask, for the prospect of one entire section of society becoming entirely reliant upon the incarceration of another section of that same society in order to earn its bread and butter, is disquieting to say the least.

Grayling has come up with a superbly cost-effective way to resolve the increasing cost of UK Prisons, but at what cost to those prisoners relocated vast distances to prisons which their families can’t afford to visit. A story comes to mind of a young man who, on being released from a prison some considerable distance from his community , found that he had missed his baby son being born. His anger was so great, that he committed a series of offences which quickly landed him back in prison. Privately run super prisons may cost society less financially but one wonders about the human cost.
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G4S A Rehabilitated Offender?

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Group 4 Securicor, isn’t that the cheapskate company that found itself unable to supply the required security staff for the 2012 Olympics, and yet insisted on claiming its’
£57 million pound management fee? The very same. A not so little company actually; with at least 654,000 employees it’s the third largest employer in the world. Employing people like Nick Buckles (the UK CEO ), who last year had no idea why his companies recruitment efforts for the Olympic Security Team had proven so shoddy. And men like Danny Fitzsimons (who in 2009), shot and killed two of his G4S colleagues roughly 36 hours after his arrival in Iraq, in what was allegedly a drunken brawl. The company might have avoided the loss of three of its security personnel,had it heeded the warning of one employee who personally knew Mr Fitzsimons and thought it dangerous to employ him; given his criminal record and mental instability. A spokesperson for the company later admitted that he had not been vetted in strict line with the company’s procedures. Which surely shows that if you’re looking for an astute and competent service provider, G4S isn’t the company for you. In fact one would have to say that a company so adept at being incompetent has no business tendering for public service contracts.
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Which probably explains why Mr Grayling gave G4S HMP Wolds to run.
According to Simon Newberry (Head of Community Services and Interventions),
re-engage,re-train and re-employ were the watch words of the day in this ‘working’ prison. According to the company statistics,61.8% of the inmates entered further education upon release and 50% found employment after prison.Unfortunately for them Chris Grayling felt it necessary to hand HMP Wolds back to the public sector,the reason?Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons expressed concern at the high levels of illegal drug use, the degree of ‘idleness’ and the poor behaviour of some inmates( the 50% who weren’t destined to find work perhaps?).

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You can’t fault G4S’s determination though, not content with setting the new standard in prisoner rehabilitation, they’ve also been busy monitoring 15,000 tagged offenders. Tags require batteries in order to work and occasionally batteries fail and a tag will malfunction; which is when a G4S worker phones up, enquires where the offender is (in case he’s out clubbing and getting into a fight), and then makes arrangements to replace the batteries in the faulty device . Except that according to yet another ignored (and subsequently sacked) employee this rarely happened,instead G4S employees became ‘keyboard trigger happy’ (keys F4 & F7 to be precise) pressing the requisite keys in order to log the breach of curfew and never bothering to phone and check that the offender had actually breached the conditions of their probation.
Take for example, prisoner B, aged 64,out on early release and sat happily at home one evening reading a book, the battery in his tag failed, G4S was alerted and with out bothering to phone him contacted the police notifying them that he had breached his curfew. Fortunately for him his probation officer realised what had happened and contacted G4S post haste, others have not been so lucky. Many offenders sitting happily at home watching the TV have been mistakenly logged as breaching the conditions of their curfew because of the poor condition of the electronic tags they’ve been fitted with, and have subsequently been sent back to prison for breaching their probation. The real reason their lives were upended? G4S was paid to fit and remove the electronic tags to the tune of £62.3 million, it got paid absolutely nothing for making those calls and monitoring the whereabouts of offenders. And so it discouraged its employees from doing so.
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The British taxpayers funding the persistently negligent services of G4S would never have known of this were it not for a maths teacher ,who worked for G4S part-time and who blew the whistle on the company’s practices.

According to the right wing Conservative think tank ‘Reform’

‘The evidence shows that a greater role for the private sector will advance the [prison] rehabilitation revolution which ministers want to deliver’

G4S has proven its inability to run public sector services repeatedly, yet still it gets awarded public sector contracts. One could be mistaken for viewing this as a classic case of ideology (and profit) driving competitive tendering with little or no regard for the genuine rehabilitation of the service users, let alone the wishes of the taxpayers funding it.
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G4S Shares Fall Amid Revelations Of Financial Scandal