Private contractors under scrutiny as UK government takes control of prison

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For the first time ever, the British government has taken over a privately-run UK prison midway through a contract since the first one opened in 1992 (BBC). The event is raising questions and doubt about the ability of private contractors to effectively run public services.

The government department in charge of prisons has intervened to take over the running of Birmingham Prison in the West Midlands after a report revealed “shocking” levels of drugs, alcohol and violence there, according to The Guardian.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) seized control of the prison from G4S, a private company contracted to run security services on behalf of the government. As well as managing prisons, G4S runs immigration detention centers, supplies security personnel to events and works with governments overseas to deliver security operations.

Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service will run the prison for the next six months at least. It will assess whether control can be handed back to G4S (Politico).

A critical report by the prisons inspector released on Monday found gangs acted with “near impunity”, prisoners lived in squalid conditions and staff were afraid of inmates(The Guardian).

The Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke said it was the “worst prison” he had “ever been to” and concluded that Birmingham Prison had deteriorated into the UK’s most violent prison.

Politico reports that it is likely to restart a wider political debate about privatized prisons and other services, after the collapse of Birmingham prison and other events.

Earlier this year, one of the government’s primary outsourced construction services companies, Carillion, collapsed, threatening thousands of jobs, projects and services across the public sector.

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