MP calls for Northumberland prison contract to be reviewed after staff voice fears 'their lives are at risk'

Ian Lavery has made the calls after an incident list from the jail revealed assaults, staffing shortages and drug hauls found at the Acklington site. 

HMP Northumberland at Acklington Northumberland.

Calls have been made for the government to review the contract to run HMP Northumberland after staff told an MP they fear for their lives.

Ian Lavery, MP for Wansbeck, said staff have revealed deep-seated concerns about working at the jail and has called for a government review of Sodexo’s 15 year deal to run the prison.

The French-owned company started out as a catering firm and runs the catering for Newcastle United.

After Sodexo took on the jail HMP Northumberland has been hit by a number of high profile incidents including a riot in March with more than 50 inmates involved and in October it was discovered mattresses that are recycled at the jail had been used to smuggle drugs into the site when staff discovered a stash of a suspected class a substance.

In the first nine days of this year an incident log revealed 10 prisoners were assaulted, one prison officer was bitten, seven drug hauls were discovered, and on January 3 there was a rooftop protest.

On January 6 four inmates barricaded themselves into a cell and more than six mobile phones were seized and on January 2 an inmate was left with ‘serious’ head wound following an assault.

Mr Lavery said: “The people I’ve spoken to believe that their lives are at risk due to the way in which Sodexo is operating the prison.

I call urgently on the government to review the contract at HMP Northumberland based on what I have said.

“The last thing we want in any prison is for anyone, whether an officer, prisoner or anyone that’s on the estate, to suffer as a consequence of poor management.

“My big fear for HMP Northumberland is someone is going to get badly hurt.

“If it does happen, nobody is in a position to say that the were not warned.

“There are assaults on a daily basis, prisoners are barricading themselves in their cells.

“Something will happen here unless we get to the bottom of it.”

Since 2010 the number of prison officers working at the site has fallen from 441 in 2010 to 270 in 2013 - and workers’ unions have described the jail as a ‘tinderbox’.

After a recruitment drive at the jail 30 new members of staff were taken on and it has emerged two were then laid off due to CRB checks revealing they had criminal convictions.

One of the new recruits was suspended after he was allegedly found drunk while on duty on Christmas Day.

Mr Lavery said staff at the jail told him people stuff banned items, including drugs and mobile phones, into objects such as tennis balls and dead birds in a bid to beat prison patrols - and it is understood some of the items discovered in the log were the result of proactive staff campaigns.

HMP Northumberland at Acklington in Northumberland

(HMP Northumberland at Acklington in Northumberland)

Staff at the jail patrol fences but it is understood due to the large area covered by the security fence staff can’t always detect items destined for inmates.

A Sodexo Justice Services spokesman said: “These incidents reflect the challenging task of managing a prison of the size and profile of HMP Northumberland but do not reflect the excellent work that our staff do to address these difficult issues.

“We constantly review staffing levels to ensure we run a safe and secure prison, which remains our absolute priority. As such, we have recruited additional staff who in line with policy are cleared with a CRB check before taking on prisoner-facing duties.

“We are very proactive in finding and removing contraband items as demonstrated by the number of seizures.”