Scots jails to use ‘abusive’ US firm to move inmates

The G4S van leaving Edinburgh Sheriff Court. Picture: Ian Rutherford
The G4S van leaving Edinburgh Sheriff Court. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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An American company accused of abusing prisoners and immigrant detainees in the US is set to begin a 12-year contract with the Scottish Prison Service next month. GEOAmey will transport prisoners in Scotland and deliver other services for SPS for twelve years starting in January, according to documents filed with the US government.

The company, a partnership between Florida-based prison company GEO Group and British infrastructure firm Amey, will replace British multinational security firm G4S, which has also faced allegations of abuse and neglect.

In August the government took over G4S operation of Birmingham Prison part way through its 15-year contract after inspectors found it to be squalid and in a “state of crisis”.

Last night GEO Group said: “We have begun operational readiness preparations with our GEOAmey joint venture for our new 12-year contract with the Scottish Prison Service for the provision of court custody and prisoner escort services in Scotland. “This important new contract, which takes effect early next year, is expected to generate approximately $39 million in annual revenues for our joint venture”.

The contract comes as the $4 billion GEO Group faces multiple accusations of physical and sexual assaults against prisoners and detainees in its US facilities, which include both prisons and buildings that hold immigrants for the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

In one recent instance, the US Department of Homeland Security made an unannounced visit to the country’s largest immigrant detainee centre and found that GEO Group staff failed to provide necessary medical care to detainees, shackled them unnecessarily, and ignored nooses made of bedsheets hanging in their cells.

GEO Group is also facing multiple lawsuits, which allege a range of abuses, including forced labour, beatings, and being placed in solitary confinement for various reasons, including staging a hunger strike to protest over conditions.

Though most of GEO Group’s 136 facilities are in the US, it operates a few worldwide, including the Dungavel House Immigration Removal Centre in South Lanarkshire. It too has come under criticism. Earlier this year it was revealed that detainees there were paid just £1 per hour for work necessary for the facility’s upkeep. Detainees reportedly received £130,919 for 128,742 hours between November 2014 and April of last year.

At the time, Labour peer Lord Rosser, a shadow home affairs spokesman, said: “These numbers are a shocking admission of the continued use of under-paid detainees instead of paid staff in Immigration Centres. Who pockets the millions from this use of under-paid labour? Is it the government itself, or is it a year round gift to the companies who run these detention centres?”

GEOAmey provides transportation services throughout England and Wales but its contract with SPS represents its first foray into Scotland.

Scottish Prison Services spokesman Tom Fox called the contract between GEOAmey and SPS an “entirely different set of circumstances” to those in the US.

He said: “They’re not operating a private prison here and the responsibility for the people in our care remains with us. It’s our obligation to ensure that the people in our care receive the dignity and care they’re entitled to and we take that responsibility seriously”.

GEOAmey’s contract will include transporting prisoners between prisons and to authorised appointments such as leave or hospital visits, and providing “the care and custody of people in court and escorting them to the court room so they can access justice,” a GEOAmey spokesman said.

Asked who will be responsible if a prisoner is injured during transport, he said: “GEOAmey will have a duty of care to those in our care and who will always be treated fairly and decently, free from discrimination.We will uphold their dignity, whilst holding ourselves to account for the service we provide, therefore if, in the rare event a person is injured whilst being transported it is highly probable that GEOAmey will be liable”.

Private prison companies have been responsible for transporting prisoners in Scotland since 2003.