The wisdom of opening the UK’s first “prison call centre” – at HMP Oakwood – has been thrown into doubt following reports of a five-hour siege at the jail, which allegedly saw two members of staff being taken hostage and an entire wing taken over.
Although it is not known whether any of the 40 inmates involved – who used pool tables to barricade D wing and demanded McDonald’s meals – man the phones, the disturbance is likely to raise eyebrows over the effect it will have on brands which use the service.
G4S, which runs the prison, refused to comment on what had happened because of an ongoing internal and police investigation. Police were seen outside the jail during the trouble. A spokesman confirmed there had been an “incident” but refused to comment further.
It is the latest in a long line of incidents for Oakwood prison, after two rooftop protests took place within months last year.
The contact centre at the Category C prison, near Wolverhampton, opened last summer, and, along with another at female jail Drake Hill in Staffordshire, carries out market research for insurance firms. At the time, it was claimed the pilot scheme could be rolled out further if successful.
The Ministry of Justice said that all workers have to pass a risk assessment and are subject to strict security measures. In addition, they do not have access to any sensitive information about the people they are calling.
Responding to enquiries about the siege, the MoJ said: “The incident is being dealt with solely by prison staff at this time. We are in touch with G4S and are being kept informed.”
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