A lot of GSL's 'corporate crimes' will be well-known: they are a continuation of those of Group 4. Therefore this report will try to focus on things that have happened or come to light since GSL was sold by Group 4. It's also worth noting that to a lot of people, GSL's whole rationale for existence is a crime.
GSL is proud of the fact that it has been 'at the forefront of the Private Finance Initiative', in many cases (such as private prisons) being among the first companies to try out privatsing a new sector. This began when GSL was still part of Group 4, but since the sell-off the PFI/PPP focus has become far greater: in 2003, 32% of GSL's revenue was from PFI contracts and 50% from PPP contracts1. Unsurprisingly, reports on the performance of PFI/PPP from the companies involved and bodies such as the CBI and Partnerships UK are overwhelmingly positive about its effects; however, independent sources show an entirely different picture. UNISON, the public sector trade union, is so concerned about the effects of privatisation in its various forms that it has launched a campaign against it: 'All our evidence and experience shows that once services are run for private profit, the quality of care is reduced and the public service ethos is replaced by a hard-nosed profit motive.
'It is about who makes the decisions about caring for your elderly relatives or your children’s education or housing the homeless—someone with their heart in the right place, or someone with an eye on the balance sheet.'2 According to an article by George Monbiot, GSL broke even within two and a half years of its 25-year contract to manage HMP Altcourse – meaning it can now spend 22 years making profits out of it3. There is also scope for more privatised services within a privately run prison. For example, at HMP Wolds, catering is done by Aramark Ltd, an American-based 'service management organisation', and healthcare is provided by Primecare Forensic Medical, part of the Nestor Healthcare Group, a growing privatised medical services company.4 Inspection reports of Wolds and Altcourse prisons published in June 2005 mention catering as a problem area, with 57% of respondents in Altcourse (where catering is also managed by Aramark) saying the food was 'bad or very bad'.5
Arguably, casualisation of staff is an inevitable consequence of privatisation. GSL claims that 'All staff are screened by the Home Office, and rigorously vetted by GSL internal procedures'. However, their behaviour implies that the 'rigourous vetting' is not very effective (see racism section below for more detail). Group 4 has a history of employing violent and racist staff, and GSL has not shaken this off. In October 2004 the Prison Officers' Association (POA) voted overwhelmingly against the government's plans to 'market test' prisons (i.e. Experiment with privatising them). Despite their right to strike having been taken away in 1993, prison officers said that industrial action was a possibility if the government ignored their concerns. POA national officer Steven Gough explained that comparison between public and private sector prisons was difficult: 'Companies such as Global Solutions seem to have no mechanisms by which they can be held to account.'6 The Prison Service Pay Review Body conducted a survey in 2004 comparing the pay and conditions of prison and immigration detention centre workers in the public and private sectors in England and Wales7. The results overwhelmingly point towards public sector workers being paid more, getting a better deal with sick pay and other benefits. There is no data on specific companies, but the information quite clearly points towards privatisation being a negative thing for the workers and, by extension, the prisoners. Government statistics also show that many private prisons have been failing to meet targets on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), including figures on assault, drug use, and hours of 'meaningful activity'8. In March 2004, the Prison Privatisation Report International reported that 'Group 4 has been recruiting casual staff to work in Port Phillip Prison and on the company operated prisoner transport service in Victoria'. The article goes on to describe staff complaints about passive smoking.9
As described earlier, GSL is one of the companies instrumental in exporting PFI/PPP ideas abroad. It is one of many that are eager to capitalise on South Africa's public services. This is symptomatic of a general trend in British companies and government policy.10 South Africa's next four prisons are likely to be run by the public sector, following government concerns about the length of contracts in privately run establishments. Siyabulela Mlombile, Department of Correctional Service regional commissioner for Gauteng, said 'We would like a period of five, seven or ten years to allow for the benefit of continuous improvement. We would have preferred a growing relationship rather than a marriage cast in stone.'11 Chris Giffard of the Prison Transformation Programme, Centre for Conflict Resolution at the University of Cape Town, raised further concerns in a letter to the Cape Times, saying:
'Prison privatisation in South Africa was introduced under a veil of secrecy. There was little if any public debate in parliament or civil society ... the issue of whether to allow the punishment of criminal behaviour to be in private hands and indeed whether companies or individuals should profit financially from the consequences of crime, are complex issues worthy of strenuous debate.' Highlighting the situation in America, where many people believe detention corporations already have far too much power in the 'justice' process12, and the fact that many such corporations are looking for ways into other parts of the world, especially developing countries, he continued:
'We are potentially on the same track [as the US] if private US prison companies invest in South Africa in the form of foreign direct investment, since we are ranked fourth globally in the per capita imprisonment rate.'13 In a radio interview in 2003, Australia's Minister for Corrections Andre Haermeyer raised concerns about prison privatisation, saying that private prison contracts 'have been written, I think, very much in favour of the operators, and whilst we have renegotiated some of the service delivery outcomes with the new operators and that’s costing us some more, we can’t simply step in and take over the prison. We have contractual obligations and it is only where there are serious and repeated material defaults against the contract that we can actually step in.'14 He went on to explain that this situation was something inherited from a previous government but the current government was still unable to change the contract until something drastic happened – apparently something more extreme than finding a loaded gun in a prisoner's cell.
GSL makes profits out of the British and Australian governments' racist policies of locking people up for no reason other than wanting to live in a country other than the one they were born in. The notorious Woomera detention centre in Australia closed down in 2003 and most inmates were moved to GSL-run Baxter; however, many reports say that conditions inside Baxter are nearly as bad as they were at Woomera prior to its closure.15 Australia is famous for having an asylum and immigration policy even more racist than Britain's16; GSL now manages all Australia's immigration detention centres. In 2004 the Prisons Inspectorate conducted unannounced inspections on four GSL-owned 'holding centres' in London and Manchester17. It concluded that all four had 'deficiencies', including lack of child protection policies, lack of adequte training in self-harm prevention and lack of fire safety strategies, and it was not made sufficiently clear to detainees what the role of the holding centres was. There was also little external supervision or monitoring of the centres – a common problem with privatised establishments18.
Visitors to detainees in Campsfield speak of regular violence, physical and verbal, to inmates by GSL guards, including broken bones. Very few of these cases result in GSL employeees being prosecuted, or even disciplined, often because the victim – obviously a key witness – has been deported by the time any complaint filters through the bureacracy. A GSL employee, allegedly 'dealing' with racial abuse claims, also told an undercover journalist that he discouraged inmates from making complaints about the staff19. It should also be noted that a lot of abuse goes unreported as detainees may not have access to lawyers or interpreters, or are just too scared to tell anyone. After being partially destroyed by fire in 200220, Yarl's Wood reopened in 2003. However, it has since been criticised for racism among staff and unnecessarily frequent use of 'control and restraint.' The prison ombudsman Stephen Shaw launched an investigation after a Daily Mirror journalist went undercover on a training course and published an article containing allegations of racism and abuse. The results of the investigation were heavily critical of certain individual staff members, some of whom have now left, but said there was not a 'culture of racism' – a conclusion that many people find hard to understand given that the specific allegations of racist behaviour were deemed to be true. A spokesperson from the Campaign to Stop Arbitratry Detentions at Yarl's Wood said:
'It would appear that the government is making some effort to protect this company from the consequences of its own failings.'21 In March 2005, GSL again came to public attention through a BBC documentary, 'Detention Undercover – the Real Story', in which undercover journalists worked for GSL in the Oakington detention centre.22 The programme includes footage of GSL employees verbally abusing and threatening inmates, and talking about using physical violence when out of sight of any CCTV cameras, for example in lifts and vans. After the screening of the programme, GSL released a statement purporting to be 'shocked and dismayed' by its contents, eager to reassure everyone that the activites described were only carried out by a violent minority.23 This has been going on for a long time, and the fact that the company does nothing about it until being exposed on national TV is not encouraging. Visitors to detainees confirm that the problem is much wider than a violent minority, and were not remotely surprised by the contents of the programme.24 Since the screening of the programme, Immigration Minister Des Browne has called for an official independent investigation into the allegations made in the programme; GSL also claims to be undertaking an internal investigation.25 A further inquiry is also being made by prison ombudsman Stephen Shaw, due for publication in June 2005; submissions have been sent from voluntary organisations including Bail for Immigration Detainees and the Campaign to Close Campsfield. A report on Wolds Prison, published in June 2005 by prisons inspector Ann Owers, says that the prison's race relations management team (RRMT) was 'not operating effectively and was not aware of the serious concerns expressed by some black and minority ethnic prisoners about equity of treatment and access to facilities'. Although 15% of prisoners were black or other ethnic minorites, none of the staff were. There were 'significant differences between some results from white and black and minority ethnic prisoners across a range of important areas, such as safety and the helpfulness of personal officers'.26
Violence during transport
The worst reported cases of violence to detainees are nearly always in vans while being moved between detention centres or to the airport; worryingly, visitors to detainees have reported a significant increase in these movements in recent months27. There are various reasons why this could be: from the government's perspective it makes sense because they can say that the average stay in detention is short – that's the average stay in one institution rather than the whole time spent in detention. For GSL, the more movements they make, the more they get paid. Aside from being an unnecessary and often traumatic upheaval, being moved can directly harm the detainees' anti-deportation appeals, as it makes it harder to build up any lasting relationship with support networks or lawyers. The total number of deportations in 2004 was 14,715, and GSL says it carries out 'in the region of 90,000 detainee movements per year'28. In November 2004, the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture published a report titled 'Harm on removal: excessive force against failed asylum seekers'29, in which 14 removals – all on people of African or Carribbean origin – were studied. Out of these, the report concluded that 'excessive or gratuitous force' had been used in 12 cases, with people suffering symptoms including loss of consciousness, bleeding from the nose and mouth, and nerve damage from the misuse of handcuffs. Following recommendations made by the report, the Home Office agreed to install CCTV cameras in the back of all vans being used to trasport detainees. However, it doesn't bode well if staff can only be guaranteed to behave if they are being monitored by CCTV. According to an article on in the Guardian, GSL receives more complaints than any other firm (although it also does more transportation, so this figure may be proportional): out of 35 legal cases, GSL was involved in 30%30.
Locking up children
GSL detains immigrant children at Oakington and Tinsley House and young offenders at Medway, through Rebound ECD. In November 2004, chief inspector of prisons Ann Owers released a report saying that 41 children were detained in Oakington when she visited, the majority for longer than four weeks. One boy had been detained days before the start of his GCSE exams. GSL records showed that in the previous year a child had been in Oakington for 21 weeks. The report concludes that agreed procedures for detaining child asylum seekers had not been followed, and that the centre lacked staff with qualifications relevent to dealing with traumatised children.31 The Home Office issued a response to the report which acknowledges that detaining children is a 'sensitive' issue but fails to address any of the specific problems highlighted, or the fact that a company is making fat profits out of the situation.32 Another report by Ann Owers, conducted in November 2004, criticises Tinsley House for its dealings with children, concluding that its child protection practices were 'seriously deficient'. Although it mentions some positive things, the report highlights the lack of proper procedure for detaining children, for preparing inmates for release and for allowing inmates to make complaints. There were also found to be insufficient criminal record checks on staff, which should be normal procedure for anyone working with children. The report mentions that 'in part, the explanation for these omissions appeared to be an unedifying stand-off between the centre and the local social services department as to who was responsible for what.' - implying that the company and local authorities were not communicating or cooperating adequately.33 After being partially destroyed by fire in 2002, Yarls Wood reopened in 2003 and is expanding. Its final capacity is to be for 400 people including children.34 GSL also locks up children in Australian immigration detention centres; for details, see links to Australian campaign organisations below.
Problems at Medway
In 2004, a government inspection of Medway 'Secure Training Centre' found that, after being operational for six years, there were still problems with health and safety, education, and staff numbers and training levels.35 See also section on deaths in custody below.
For a look at some of the problems relating to Lift schemes, which GSL is keen to get more involved with, see Unison's report:
'GSL, through its review process, ensures it only commits to bidding for projects in which it has both the skills and resources to deliver.'36 However, there seem to have been numerous cases of GSL taking on responsibilities it was unable to meet. According to various local press stories its prisoner transport service has a chronic problem with punctuality. An article in the Peterborough Evening Telegraph claims that 'prisoners being taken to courts in Peterborough arrive late more times than anywhere else in the South East of England.' An article in the Manchester Evening News from September 2004 tells a similar story, in which some people who had expected to be seen in court and then released on bail were kept in cells over the weekend because the judge refused to see them when they were brought to court late.37 In Australia, concerns were raised over private companies' ability to run prisons safely when pistols, ammunition, drugs and syringes were found at Port Phillip Prison in 2003, then still run by Group 4 (now GSL).38 In October 2003, Group 4 was told to sort the situation out or face possible loss of the contract (originally signed to last until 2017).39
Deaths in custody
In March 2005 two GSL officers were suspended after a 23-year-old prisoner in HMP Rye Hill killed himself in his cell.40 In April 2005 another inmate in Rye Hill died of stab wounds. Three other prisoners were charged with his murder.41 A 15 year old inmate of Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre died in hospital after being 'restrained' by three members of staff in April 2004. He had been in Rainsbrook for just a couple of days.42 In Australia, Group 4/GSL has been repeatedly criticised for the ways it handles deaths in its prisons. In 1995 when an inmate in Mount Gambier died from morphine toxicity, the South Australian coroner criticised Group 4's way of dealing with the police and was concerned about a 'perceived attempt' by the former police minister to discourage police from investigating inside the prison. This case also points to a lack of communication and clarity about Group 4/GSL's legal position.43
In 2004, an inquest into the death of a prisoner, again in Mount Gambier, in 2001 was critcal of Group 4/GSL. The coroner said that 'this is yet another case where the design of the cell has provided an easy hanging point to enable a prisoner to commit suicide.' and highlighted concern over the lack of qualified medical staff.44 In June 2005, Ranzan Kumluca, a 19-year-old asylum seeker from Turkey committed suicide at Campsfield. He had been in detention for about six months.45 At the time of publishing this report, around 57 Zimbabwean asylum seekers in detention centres around the UK are on hunger strike, in protest against the conditions in detention and the fact that they are being deported despite facing persecution when they return. Those in Campsfield are currently joined by other detainees in protest against the conditions which led to Ranzan Kumluca's suicide.46
'It is our aim at HMP Wolds to address issues by teaching prisoners the work ethic and motivate them to work in an industrial environment.'47 - HMP Wolds website. While giving prisoners something to do and teaching them new skills can be positive, they are neither paid properly for their labour nor given much choice about the type of work (can working on a production line really be described as 'meaningful activity'?) and how many hours they do. As there are no trade unions, the situation is very open to exploitation and workers are, literally, a 'captive market'. Companies for whom GSL provides labour include Vulcan Windows and Summit Media, as well as unnamed companies through assembly on production lines.
1. 2003 company annual report, p.32 2. www.unison.org.uk/positivelypublic/index.asp UNISON also has a large section specifically about PFI and its negative effects on its website, which makes interesting reading, at www.unison.org.uk/pfi/ 3. www.monbiot.com/archives/2004/11/30/road-hogs/ 'Road hogs', 30 November 2004. 4. From www.hmpwolds.co.uk 5. www.psiru.org/justice/ppri69.htm#UK 'GSL's mixed inspection reports', July 2005. 6. 'Enough is enough: prison officers warn over privatisation plans' The Guardian, 21 October 2004. 7. www.psiru.org/justice/ppri65.htm, 'Private sector: lower pay, longer hours, higher turnover', November 2004. 8. www.psiru.org/justice/ppri64.htm#UNITEDKINGDOM, 'Failure to meet KPIs', September 2004. 9. www.psiru.org/justice/ppri61.htm#AUSTRALIA 'Group 4 recruiting casuals', March 2004 10. See, for example, www.monbiot.com/archives/2004/10/19/exploitation-on-tap/ or www.wdm.org.uk/campaigns/past/gats/index.htm . Bodies such as the Adam Smith Institute are putting some effort into promoting privatisation in poorer countries. See www.psiru.org/justice/ppri51.asp#AFRICA 'Think tank targets the continent's prisons', November 2002, and www.psiru.org/justice/ppri54.1.htm#SOUTH%20AFRICA , April 2003. 11. www.psiru.org/justice/ppri63.htm 'South Africa: Next four prisons to be public?', July 2004. 12. 13. www.psiru.org/justice/ppri64.htm#SOUTHAFRICA 'Privatisation debate necessary', September 2004. 14. www.psiru.org/justice/ppri56.asp 'Weapons and drugs at Port Philip', June 2003. 15. See, for example www.safecom.org.au/news-0612-2004.htm 'Hunger-strikes, naked roof protests: evidence of “Woomera-Baxter” status', 6 December 2004. 16. Australia's Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs was heard to say on the radio 'Well, let me just say, detention centres are not prisons. They are administrative detention. They’re conducted in quite a different way.' Found on www.baxterwatch.net . 17. The centres visited were: Communications House (London); Lunar House (Croydon); Electric House (Croydon); and Dallas Court (Manchester). 18. www.irr.org.uk/2005/march/ha000018.htm 'Asylum seekers 'held' in unsuitable conditions', 31 March 2005. For the full report, see www.irr.org.uk/pdf/holding_centres.pdf 19. www.guardian.co.uk/immigration/story/0,,1429831,00.html 'Call to axe firm in asylum seeker racism row' March 3 2005. 20. For a detailed account of this, see www.irr.org.uk/2003/september/ha000005.html or www.labournet.net/antiracism/0308/yw1.html . GSL's response to the result of the inquiry that was conducted about this are available on www.gslglobal.com/press_centre/press_release.asp?prID=181. 21. www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1207347,00.htm 'Liberty attacks “staggering” Yarl's Wood report', 1 May 2004. 22. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/real_story/4309709.stm 'Probe into immigrant abuse claims', 1 March 2005. 23. www.gslglobal.com/press_centre/press_release.asp?prID=185 24. See, for example, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4312187.stm 'Asylum abuse “is not surprising”', 2 March 2005, or talk to anyone who's ever been inside an immigration detention centre. 25. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4315467.stm 'Detention centre inquiry ordered', 3 March 2005. 26. www.psiru.org/justice/ppri69.htm#UK 'GSL's mixed inspection reports', July 2005. 27. For example, one source described an incident in which a detainee was moved from Campsfield to Dungavel detention centre in Scotland, then back the next day. 28. www.gslglobal.com/markets/custodial/immigration.asp 29. www.torturecare.org.uk/index.php?module=articles&func=display&ptid=1&aid=84 30. www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1455504,00.html 'Security firms in deportations row' April 9 2005. 31. www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1346803,00.html, 'Asylum centre fails children', 9 November 2004, and www.ncadc.org.uk/archives/filed%20newszines/newszine52/anneowers.html 32. www.gnn.gov.uk/Content/Detail.asp?ReleaseID=134757&NewsAreaID=2 'Home Office response to HMCIP report on Oakington immigration reception centre published', 9 November 2004. 33. www.irr.org.uk/2005/june/ha000005.html , 'Mounting criticism of detention of aslum-seeking children', 9 June 2005, or read the full report at www.irr.org.uk/pdf/CI_rep_tinhouse.pdf 34. www.gslglobal.com/markets/custodial/immigration.asp 35. www.psiru.org/justice/ppri62.htm 'Progress at Group 4's Medway, but...', June 2004. 36. GSL's 2003 annual report, p.32. 37. Manchester Evening News, 'Prisoner service courts trouble', 21 September 2004,
www.unison.org.uk/acrobat/B1616.pdf , 'Private firms blamed for court delays', October 2004. 38. www.psiru.org/justice/ppri56.asp 'Weapons and drugs at Port Philip', June 2003. 39. www.psiru.org/justice/ppri59.htm#AUSTRALIA1 'Victoria: default notice for Group4' , December 2003. 40. www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1445841,00.html 'Officers suspended after prison death', 26 March 2005. 41. http://society.guardian.co.uk/crimeandpunishment/story/0,8150,1460566,00.html 'Three charged with inmate's murder', 15 April 2005. 42. www.psiru.org/justice/ppri62.htm 'Investigation into circumstances of STC boy's death', May 2004,
www.psiru.org/justice/ppri64.htm#UNITEDKINGDOM 'Restraint inquiry launched', September 2004. 43. www.psiru.org/justice/ppriarchive/ppri11-06-97.asp#AUSTRALIA 'Protection for whistleblowers', June 1997. 44. www.psiru.org/justice/ppri64.htm 'Prisoner hanging: coroner critical of Group 4', September 2004. The inquest results from this case can be seen at
www.courts.sa.gov.au/courts/coroner/findings/findings_2004/turner.finding.htm 45. www.indymedia.org.uk/en/regions/oxford/2005/06/315021.html 'Support demo at Campsfield', 27th June 2005. 46. The statement from the United Network of Detained Zimbabweans is at www.ncadc.org.uk/newszine59/undz.htm. See also www.guardian.co.uk/zimbabwe/article/0,2763,1516292,00.html 'Blair refuses to halt Zimbabwe deportations', 28th June 2005. 47. www.hmpwolds.co.uk/main_pages/prison_industry.htm