The anonymous transport of prisoners II

Comments on my earlier post justly accused me of having done little research about the private company Serco, which runs four UK prisons, and, it turns out, detention centres for immigrants.

So I’ve done a little research.

Dovegate prison’s 200 bed theraputic community (TC) was “a very safe place” according to a recent report by the chief inspector of prisons for England and Wales. However, the chief inspector also stated that “it was of concern that selection [of prisoners] was apparently being skewed by commercial imperatives. This was neither appropriate nor fair, and it mitigated against the integrity of therapy…”

Not exactly encouraging but, I acknowledge, hardly a resounding condemnation either.

Far more disturbing are the reports on how Serco runs detention centres.

A 2006 Legal Action for Women (LAW) investigation into Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre, before SERCO took over, found that: 70% of women had reported rape, nearly half had been detained for over three months, a staggering 57% had no legal representation, and 20% had lawyers who demanded cash before taking action. Women reported sexual and racial intimidation by guards.”[1] LAW’s Self-Help Guide is now being confiscated by guards depriving women of information about their rights.

Since SERCO took over conditions have deteriorated.

What’s perhaps most disturbing is that I could find no mainstream news reports, besides one article in the New Statesman, even mentioning the May hunger strike by women detainees at Yarl’s Wood. A hunger strike is a pretty desperate course of action to take. Those who are cynical about the motives of those participating would do well to sample the living conditions of the strikers before dismissing them.

Alice O’Keeffe concludes her article in the New Stateman:

I entered thinking I belonged to a civilised and fair society; I left feeling very differently.

A reaction not too far removed from my feelings on that sunny section of Fleet Street where I encountered prisoners being anonymously transported. We should know who we’re locking up.

Further required reading on the subject must be this article in the Guardian describing the work of the Medical Justice network.

Update (5/10/07): The Independent reports that “British guards ‘assault and racially abuse’ deportees”. More details emerged a few days later, as anger built against airlines involved in forcible deportation of refugees.

About David

I am an environmental writer, journalist and speaker living in Cape Town, South Africa.
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3 Responses to The anonymous transport of prisoners II

  1. Ben says:

    I’m sure there are a good number of valid and constructive criticisms that can be levelled at Serco – it would be stupid to defend such a large and diverse organisation against all comers. However…

    Be careful in sighting special-interest groups as reliable sources. Their aims may be laudable but they care little for any collateral damage caused to a company such as Serco’s reputation in attacking the UK government’s approach to immigration removals – they may even be willing to spin the facts to suit their cause. I would suggest an alternative reason for the lack of mainstream coverage would be the lack of additional reliable sources on the ‘hunger strike’ described.

    The LAW ‘report’ as quoted entirely relates to the previous contractor with the exception of the last statement – it would be fairer to assess whether conditions have indeed deteriorated after more than a few days past the transition.

    You criticise people for dismissing the conditions in the centres without witnessing them, but have you… or are you accepting one journalist’s report as sufficient evidence of Serco consistenly failing all detainees? Also, remember Serco is not responsible for the detainee’s original detention or the legal process to evaluate any asylum claims.

    I don’t understand why you continue to criticise ‘anonymous’ transport vans. To make the people being transported visible to all would be humiliating for them, convicted criminal or not. To paint ‘prisoners inside’ down the side would risk making the vehicle or its civilian staff an unnecessary target. The point is people need to be discreetly moved from prison to court and back again – we don’t know who we’re locking up until the court process is complete and that process is open and visible for all to see… as it has been for a very long time.

  2. David says:

    Fair points. My argument with respect to anonymity is not that the transports should make it clear who’s inside them, but that it should be clear they’re transporting prisoners, as citizens should remember this is being done on their behalf. I don’t really agree with your point re this making them targets; anyone concerned with ‘targeting’ them would be quite capable of working out that the anonymous Serco vehicle is a prison transport.

    In respect of the reporting, the media are capable of investigating the claims made by detainees; they need not rely on the reporting of special interest groups.

    Curious, Ben, I wasn’t aware anyone read my blog – how did you come across it?

  3. Ben says:

    Fair enough and I accept there will be a wide variety of views on anythin relating to the criminal justice sector. I’m just sad when a (mostly) good company gets beaten up too unfairly… it contributes to a ‘default negative’ view that doesn’t credit the hard work and commitment of a great number of skilled and caring people who work in this area.

    Google news alerts pinged your blog into my inbox – I track a number of companies in this sector as it is relevant to my job.

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