Oakwood Prison: 'Near riot' claim as inmates damage cells

The disturbance at HMP Oakwood ended peacefully, says G4S

An inmate at a privately-run prison has claimed a disturbance that authorities say ended peacefully after a few hours was actually a "near riot".

A group of prisoners at HMP Oakwood, near Wolverhampton, refused to be locked-down at 17:15 GMT on Sunday, leading to a 10-hour disturbance, BBC reporter Giles Latcham was told.

They allegedly barricaded the entrance to the Cedar Wing and smashed windows.

Operator G4S said one prisoner was treated for minor injuries.

Oakwood's troubled history

The rooftop protest
  • The privately-run prison opened in April 2012
  • At first it held 1,605 category C male prisoners, but it later re-categorised 256 places for category D prisoners, who are eligible for release on temporary licences
  • In October, an inspectors' report said the prison was failing to tackle drugs, which inmates said were easier to obtain than soap.
  • At the time, G4S said it had already taken steps to address the problems
  • In October and November, six prisoners staged a rooftop protest
'Threatened officers'

The disturbance, which G4S said involved between 15 and 20 prisoners, was brought under control just after 02:00 GMT without injury to any prison officers. The BBC was told up to 50 prisoners were involved.

Officers in riot gear entered the prison, in Featherstone, which has a mixture of category C and D prisoners.

There were two rooftop protests at the jail last year. G4S could not confirm if the latest incident was linked.

In a statement, a G4S spokesman said prisoners, who were out of their cells, threatened officers and caused damage to cells and prison property.

A number of prisoners returned to their cells voluntarily. Rapid response teams were deployed and Staffordshire Police and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) were both informed.

"Owing to damage caused to cells, a number of prisoners were moved to other wings and to other prisons in the area," they said.

"The incident was brought under control just after 2am without injury to any prison officers, although one prisoner has been treated for minor injuries.

"Reports of prison staff being taken hostage are completely untrue."

A investigation by prison officials and the police is now under way.

Iqbal Singh Kang, from Gurney Harden Solicitors, who represents some of the prisoners, called on the government to reconsider its contract with G4S.

Mr Kang said inmates described Oakwood as a "dreadful prison" which was "not very well run".

"The protests have manifested themselves after a number of issues. When those grievances aren't addressed, it results in the prisoners taking action," he said.

Mr Kang claimed the prison provided little in the way of employment and rehabilitation for inmates.

'World's best prison'

He said: "The problem is, rehabilitation costs money. G4S is a privately-run company and rehabilitation has an impact on profits.

"This situation has gone on long enough and the government can no longer tolerate this nonsense."

G4S, which has been running the jail since it became privately run in April 2012, said earlier that there had been incidents in the past but the prison was "still in its start-up phase".

The spokesman added that G4S had ambitions to make Oakwood "the best prison in the world".

Chancellor George Osborne told BBC WM "it was very early days" for the prison and said "no conclusions" could be drawn about whether private companies should run prisons.

He added: "Some of the older prisons cost £100,000 a year, per prisoner. In some of the more modern prisons, which are better managed, the cost is more like £15,000 to £20,000 a year.

"That's a big saving."

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