HMP Northumberland has been in the news recently for the wrong reasons. Once again, it has drawn criticism from all quarters after a BBC Panorama exposé laid bare the state of the prison.
HMP Northumberland is based in Acklington and is operated by French private security contractor Sodexo Justice Services. The contractor has been running the prison, which is a Category C prison for adults, since December 2013.
The undercover exposé revealed that the prison staff are struggling to cope with their responsibilities, and this is leading to major security lapses. There is also a serious substance abuse problem among the inmates.
After the documentary was aired in the middle of February, several people have spoken out about the prison’s problems. An inmate’s wife said that when her husband was there, he did not have a substance abuse problem; however, now he is addicted.
Two former prison officers who were stationed at the prison stated that during their tenure, violence was a major problem there, with guards being assaulted by the inmates.
After the airing of the documentary, Sodexo said that it would investigate the incidents and take the necessary action. The private security contractor reiterated that the safety and security of the staff and prisoners were a priority. The company pointed out that over £3 million has been invested to install a new fire system and increase the number of CCTVs, and the prison’s security technology has also been upgraded.
Sodexo was critical of the BBC documentary, stating that it just aired the negatives but had not bothered to show the improvements that the contractor has taken to address several of the issues.
The Ministry of Justice stated that it would launch an investigation into HMP Northumberland. Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery said that the prison contract awarded to Sodexo should be cancelled, while Berwick MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan said that she would do everything to support the staff at the prison.