As long ago as 2003 two whistleblowers raised serious allegations of abuse and bullying at prisons run by G4S. No significant action was taken in response to these complaints. As a result for almost thirteen years nothing has been done to rectify bullying brutality in parts of Her Majesty’s prison system. The nation should be ashamed.
Management has become adept at losing records and shuffling papers about in response to serious allegations. Panorama revealed that staff working for G4S have been encouraged to falsify restraint statistics. One inmate described Oakhill Prison, which was to be a blueprint for the government’s new generations of big, cheap jails, as a “shit-hole staffed by kids who should be stacking shelves.” (The Guardian 29/04/2014)
In an appalling dereliction of duty by both the Department of Justice and by senior management at G4S, it was only the investigation made public by undercover journalists in the BBC that brought about tangible change. Even where persistent abuse is made public the outcome is only that one or two heads might roll, a few committees might change their names, part of the organisation might be sold off, a few people might apologise profusely. The structure that let these abuses happen stays in place. Apologies and promises of reform are hardly worth the paper they are written on.
In the case of G4S eleven staff members were suspended or sacked from its Secure Training Centres (STCs) at Medway in Kent last month in response to the Panorama revelations. It was announced yesterday that G4S is to sell off its “children’s services businesses” including the contracts for those at Medway and at Oakhill, in Milton Keynes.
In these and other cases, senior management will continue to draw large salaries. I ask myself what it is that senior management is paid to do if it is not to ensure that laws are not broken and that individuals are not bullied or otherwise abused on their watch. Surely this is the minimum acceptable standard that we should expect of any well paid chief executive.
We will not stop this happening if we do not hold individuals to account. The ministers in government departments involved in contracting out services in order to save costs, leaving children and other inmates vulnerable to abuse because of insufficient oversight, should be held personally responsible.
Too often inquiries take years and the verdict is simply that everyone involved is very, very sorry. This is simply not good enough. In the name of cost-cutting measures the most vulnerable in society are suffering from cruel, inhumane and, sometimes, illegal abuse. Someone at a very senior level and in government itself must be held personally accountable for it or this appalling situation will continue unchecked.