Army on alert over strikes threat in private jails clash

Military personnel are on standby after prison officers threatened strike action as the Government unveiled controversial plans to privatise jails.

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke provoked anger among trade unions by announcing Birmingham Prison would be run by contractor G4S from October, making it the first jail in the country to move from the public sector into private hands.

Doncaster Prison will become the first to be run on a “payment by results” basis. It will be run by private firm Serco as before, but the contractor will only get its full payment if reoffending rates are reduced. Under the new contract at Doncaster Prison, which begins in October, Serco will only be fully paid if reconviction rates within a year of release fall by five per cent.

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A new prison in Wolverhampton, Featherstone 2, will be run by G4S but a fourth site under review, Buckley Hall in Rochdale, will remain under the control of the Prison Service.

Although strikes by prison officers were outlawed by the previous Labour Government, Mr Clarke confirmed the Government had put the military on standby to keep order in Britain’s jails in the event of a walkout.

Mr Clarke claimed the changes would save the taxpayer £216m over the lifetime of the contracts for the three existing prisons, but the general secretary of the Prison Officers’ Association (POA), Steve Gillan, said it was a “disgraceful” decision that was “politically driven and morally repulsive”.

At a POA meeting on the steps of Birmingham Prison yesterday, branch chairman Brian Clarke warned: “Our union has a policy of industrial action, up to and including strikes, should a public sector prison be handed to a private sector operation.”

Mark Serwotka, leader of the Public and Commercial Services union, which has 5,000 members working in prisons, said the arrangement was “an invitation to the private sector to gamble on the rehabilitation of inmates and cherry-pick the easiest cases”.