Pick Everard’s £150 million HMP Oakwood near Wolverhampton has been criticised for a string of design problems, including limited CCTV coverage in stairwells
An investigation by the Independent Monitoring Board found the privately run facility had suffered a catalogue of problems.
The study concluded ‘there were a number of issues with the layout of the prison following cost-cutting initiatives being implemented after the original design specification was agreed’.
Originally designed as a 2,500-capacity prison, the scheme was scaled down to house 1,600 inmates after Labour’s super prison-building programme was abandoned in 2009.
When the prison’s phased opening began in April last year cells were still being fitted out, the main kitchen had yet to complete and toilet paper was unavailable – according to the report.
Initial problems included the outer perimeter which at first only featured a single fence – unlike other prisons which have double fences – allowing drugs and mobile phones to be thrown in.
Design failures included stairwells not covered by CCTV which ‘have become areas within the accommodation blocks where incidents are occurring’.
The staff hub area was also singled out for having ‘no natural light, limited air circulation or air conditioning’ and being ‘very stuffy’.
The centrally controlled heating system was meanwhile criticised for failing to control cells individually, leading to some being too hot or too cold.
Furthermore, the buildings’ design was blamed for creating ‘many black spots’ where prison workers’ radios failed. Around £400,000 was spent improving radio coverage to fix the problem.
Pick Everard, architect on the project for the Ministry of Justice, declined to comment.
Commenting on the report, a Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: ‘The Ministry of Justice was responsible for the original building design and imposed no “cost-cutting” measures after the final contract award.’
She added: ‘Oakwood is still in the early stages of its development and experience demonstrates that it takes up to two years for a new prison to develop and embed good working practices that underpin the successful delivery of positive regimes for prisoners.
‘We are working closely with G4S to ensure that the issues raised by the [Independent Monitoring Board] are fully addressed and are confident that Oakwood will deliver the improvements required of them and will become a well-run prison that reduces the risk of future reoffending for the people it holds.’