Addiewell: After riots leave two guards injured, critics warn of cash constraints in private prisons

IT WAS hailed as a jail of the future. But just a year after opening and rocked by a series of controversies, HMP Addiewell has only served to reignite the debate about whether prisons should be privately run at all.

The West Lothian jail – dubbed "Hotel Addiewell" because prisoners enjoy en-suite facilities and flat-screen TVs – hit the headlines again this week after reports of rioting by up to 100 inmates left two guards injured.

Since opening in 2008, the jail, run by private firm Kalyx, has been at the centre of repeated reports of violence and high levels of drug abuse among prisoners.

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Today, in the wake of the latest incident, concerns have been raised over whether the problems are a result of low staffing levels.

David Melrose, the chairman of the Scottish National Committee of the Prison Officers Association, said the POA were always "saddened and disappointed" to hear that a member of staff has been injured.

He added: "It is our opinion that these incidents and assaults are solely attributed to the low levels of staff operating in the private prisons.

"We are afraid that these types of incident will continue unless there is a substantial increase to the staff complements in recognition of the dangers associated with the category of prisoners held in custody."

The 130 million prison was opened in December 2008 and was hailed as the country's first "learning prison", with 120 computers allowing inmates to take a huge variety of training courses.

The en-suite cells ensured there would be no slopping out and gave prisoners privacy to shower, although the inclusion of flat-screen TVs – some with access to satellite sports channels – did raise more than a few eyebrows.

Early teething problems included the sacking of 12 staff last January after it emerged they had criminal records and, just a month later, up to 40 prisoners were involved in a three-hour riot.

Just five months after opening, the prison emerged as one of the worst in Scotland for violent attacks, with 32 prisoner-on-prisoner assaults and 19 assaults by inmates on staff recorded.

In October, rioting broke out again, with the violence this time leading to four members of staff being injured in a five-hour stand-off that saw prisoners attack guards with mop handles.

The problems are similar to those encountered in the first few years of operation at Scotland's first private prison, HMP Kilmarnock.

Opened in 1999, it suffered numerous riots and concerns about the number of violent attacks among prisoners, the level of drug use and the time inmates spent in their cells.

The Chief Inspector of Prisons at the time was Sir Clive Fairweather, who attributed many problems to low levels of inexperienced staff, with 91 per cent of staff initially employed having never worked in a prison before.

While he has never visited the West Lothian prison, he agreed that the problems faced at Addiewell were similar to those he saw at HMP Kilmarnock.

Sir Clive, pictured left, said: "What you get with private prisons are very good facilities and these are generally far above what you would get in an older prison – things like medical facilities and cells, as well as the security of the prison themselves. So there are benefits.

"Unfortunately, private prisons are run to make a profit. Ultimately, the company in charge of them has to deliver for their shareholders and so they have to find ways to make money.

"The way to do this is by having fewer staff, paying low wages, investing less money in training and pensions, and this impacts on the running of the prison.

"For a prison to run properly, you need the guards and the prisoners to understand each other and work with each other, and that requires experienced guards.

"That takes an investment in training and keeping staff, which can be at odds with the need to deliver a profit."

HMP Addiewell currently houses 701 low, medium and high-security convicts – it has the capacity to house 796 – and while Kalyx yesterday refused to give details on how many guards are employed, it stated before the prison opened that it would employ 350 staff, including 160 prison officers.

The Scottish Government is known to be opposed to private prisons, with justice secretary Kenny MacAskill abandoning plans for a private firm to build and run a 100m jail at Low Moss, near Glasgow, in 2007, saying prisons "are for public safety, not private profit".

The Scottish Prisons Service said the contract agreed with Kalyx over the running of HMP Addiewell required it to "run the prison effectively" but that Kalyx ultimately could decide what the level of staffing needed to be.

It also said there were financial penalties in place for the company if it failed to comply with the terms of the contract.

"In terms of training, all guards are required to be trained to deal effectively with situations such as the one at HMP Addiewell, and we would expect privately-run prisons to give their staff the same level of training," a spokesman said.

"The incident at HMP Addiewell was contained by staff, to minimise damage, and was brought under control within five hours, which a lot of professionals within the service would agree suggests it was handled in an extremely professional manner."

A Kalyx spokesman said: "The staffing levels at HMP Addiewell are appropriate for the prisoner mix and environment according to a risk assessment of each block.

"All prison officers at HMP Addiewell are trained in control and restraint as part of a nine-week programme which they have to complete before starting work.

"The Scottish Prison Service monitors and certifies all staff and training for HMP Addiewell and, like all other prisons in Scotland, Kalyx invests heavily in training staff to deal with circumstances such as Monday's incident."

A turbulent 13 months

15 December, 2008: HMP Addiewell opens to inmates. The 130 million prison boasts en-suite cells with flat-screen TVs, prompting some criticism about the level of comfort.

3 January, 2009: Twelve members of staff are sacked after disclosure checks reveal they have criminal records.

10 February, 2009: Up to 40 prisoners are involved in a three-hour riot in the Douglas Hall section on the ground floor. Claims that the riot was sparked by prisoners being denied food are flatly denied.

5 May, 2009: Figures show the jail has one of the worst records for violent attacks in Scotland, with 32 prisoner-on-prisoner assaults and 19 assaults by inmates on staff recorded in just five months.

12 October, 2009: Four staff are injured after rioting again breaks out at the prison, with inmates claiming the violence was a response to brutality towards inmates.

1 December, 2009: The prison is criticised after figures show it has one of the worst records for drug seizures in the country. Over the first 12 months of its operation there were 206 suspected drug finds.

25 January, 2010: Violence erupts once more at the prison, with reports that more than 100 inmates barricaded themselves into Douglas B and C wings.