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Private company, Working Links, are currently in talks to take over a youth jail. They are currently in advanced negotiations to purchase and run Oakhill Training Centre in Milton Keynes. The centre is currently owned by the embattled G4S.
Working Links have previously faced allegations of fraud. Whilst running probation services in Wales they were asked to repay £32,000 due to block signing of jobseekers signatures by Working Links staff. Plaid Cymru MP, Hywell Williams, went as far to accuse them of exploiting their roles and as “wholly unfit” to operate.
Working Links largest scandal came when a man they were supposed to be monitoring whilst on probation went on to kill an 18 year old man. The man they were monitoring had missed several appointments, and measures to prevent this were absent or non-existent.
Private prisons themselves remain a scandal. Frances Crook, CEO of the Howard League for Penal Reform, told BuzzFeed News:
Caring for children in custody should not be a commodity to trade between profit-seeking companies.
“These prisons have been plagued by scandal, have failed children, and should be immediately closed. Working Links has no record of running such an institution and no record of caring for children. This would be a case of tossing children out of the frying pan and into the fire.
The scandals she refers to have plagued G4S’s administration of youth jails. A report from last year confirmed that they had ignored years of warnings about behaviour of staff to each other and to inmates. This included:
- Descriptions of a culture of corruption in which falsification of records was encouraged by management in order to avoid contractual penalties
- Bullying of inmates and staff by senior managers, including allegations that staff who were subject to serious allegations were promoted while staff who raised concerns were forced to leave
- Lack of boundaries between staff and inmates, with staff using inmates to intimidate other inmates and staff
- Further allegations of staff behaving inappropriately to inmates
It is unlikely they will improve under an inexperienced contractor.
Andy Slaughter, the Labour MP and former shadow justice minister, who has been seeking answers on what will happen to the youth justice estate, said:
No one regrets the decision by G4S to cease their involvement in running STCs given the scandals and disasters they oversaw, but it is the job of the MOJ to ensure that whoever takes on responsibility for the contracts and the institutions is able to run them in a fit and proper manner.