'Jokewood' - HMP Oakwood condemned by inspectors

A super prison serving Shropshire was today criticised by inspectors in another blow to its private operator G4S.

Oakwood prison director John McLaughlin
Oakwood prison director John McLaughlin

HMP Oakwood in Featherstone, near the M54, can hold 1,600 prisoners and was created as part of a reorganisation that saw the closure of Shrewsbury’s Dana jail.

Inspectors found there were high levels of violence within Oakwood. It had inexperienced staff and high levels of self-harm.

In addition, the jail – dubbed “Jokewood” – urgently needed to address its approach to its near-300 sex offenders, many of whom were due for release without their offending having been addressed.

HM Inspectorate of Prisons made the findings during a surprise visit to the jail.

Oakwood is a training prison for category C prisoners. The inspection found there was clear evidence of drug and alcohol use.

One in seven prisoners developed a drug problem while serving time at the p, the report revealed – as it emerged that inmates had told inspectors: “You can get drugs here but not soap.”

The report found that too many prisoners at the jail felt unsafe and levels of violence were high, levels of self harm were high and there was ‘clear evidence’ of illicit drug and alcohol use.

It also found prisoners were unable to access basic facilities such as cleaning materials and that staff and prisoner relationships were not respectful.

The £150 million super jail in Featherstone opened last year.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “It is well-known in prison circles that this institution is referred to as ‘Jokewood’ by prisoners and staff across the system, but this isn’t a joke – it is deeply serious.”

But bosses at Oakwood said they had already taken steps to make improvements.

Prisoners also had little confidence in staff to act consistently or to get things done.

HMP Oakwood
HMP Oakwood

It said many staff were ‘passive and compliant, almost to the point of collusion’ while well over a third of prisoners were locked up during the working day and just over half were in activity at any one time.

Overall, inspectors have branded what they found at the Featherstone jail as ‘very concerning’.

Nick Hardwick, the chief inspector of prisons, today said: “There is a lot to do before Oakwood is operating anywhere near effectively.”

He said the prison had a hard working management and staff team in place, while a new director had recently been appointed.

“But the prison urgently needed a plan to retrieve the situation and there were real risks if matters were allowed to drift,” he added.Oakwood opened in April 2012 and has 1,600 inmates but a new director was appointed at the prison earlier this year.

John McLaughlin, prison director, has already vowed to ‘turn around’ the prison after it was rated by the Ministry of Justice as ‘of serious concern’. It was one of just three of 134 prisons in the country to receive the rating.

Speaking at the time, he said: “We are working hard with our colleagues and partners to turn this around and we are confident when they next visit we will be delivering high levels of service across the board.”

Today’s report is the third to criticise the jail in the past two months.

Michael Spurr, chief executive officer of the National Offender Management service, said: “The challenge of opening any new prison should not be underestimated. It is a complex and difficult operation – but throughout the mobilisation period Oakwood has delivered a safe, secure and ordered regime.

“The Chief Inspector has made clear there is much more to do to achieve the high standards we expect but operating systems are now fully established and I am confident that the improvements will be achieved. We will work with G4S and continue to monitor performance at Oakwood closely over the coming months.”

Bosses at G4S, which runs the prison, said steps had already been taken to make improvements. Jerry Petherick, managing director for G4S custodial and detention services, said there had been a reduction in the amount of drugs entering the prison, the use of force was reducing and better care and sentence plans were being put in place.

“We are also working with the Ministry of Justice and the healthcare and education providers, who do not report to us, to addr-ess the issues raised in this report,” he said.

But MPs today said the report was ‘deeply disturbing’. Gavin Williamson, MP for South Staffordshire, said the main priority had to be the safety of the people who worked there.



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Comments for: "'Jokewood' - HMP Oakwood condemned by inspectors"

ronald gump

Super prison is no good without super staff......and we are not going to get that in England!!!! The staff at these facilities dont want to understand the needs and wants of long term prisoners.....and why should they? When there wages meet the criteria for the job that they are doing then they should care. For seven pound fifty an hour, i would want to clock in, do my shift and get the hell out there as quick as possible and i imagine all the officers feel the same way? Oakwood is just another Dana but in a new location. Get some fresh faces and new ideas or it will end up the same as hmp shrewsbury.....grim.


In response to Ronald Grump. The Dana was a fantastic prison with fantastic staff!!! There was mutual respect between, the residents, the prisoners and the staff.

It just goes to show what the public perception is. I think that expecting a private firm to run Oakwood was the joke. Look what they did with the Olympics!!! The government should have learned from that but no, they want to run it as cheap as possible with little thought to the prisoners or the staff who put their lives on the line, every single day.


Ronald Gump, you NEED to get your facts straight before you slate HMP Shrewsbury. As an ex-employee with over 10 year’s experience I can factually say that HMP Shrewsbury was a tightly run regime with very professional compassionate staff. Prisoners were treated with the highest dignity. Governor Hendry always put prisoners first, if any ex-prisoners read this I am sure that most would agree with what I am saying.

So HMP Shrewsbury will never compare with Oakwood. I feel so sorry for people who create stories without having the years of experience of that I have had within the walls of the Dana gaol. Staff at Shrewsbury prison were SUPER STAFF, as I am sure the Independent Board of Visitors (IMB) would agree!!!

I am not surprised that the report on Oakwood is so damming, it wasn't if, it was when!!! Super prisons do not work, they are there to make profit!!


Same as the Dana? That would be a dream come true for Oakwood. Dana was shut to save money, and money is now being saved.

The result of spending less money is chaos, less money will always result in inferior performance.

Shrewsbury, and I never worked there but visit many prisons, was well run and safe.

Colin Dodd.

G4S,,again. How many times do they have to demonstrate their incompetence before being sacked. Beyond belief now.

'Owd Monner

Privatisation...the answer to everything. We had a mail service once, you and I owned it and it worked. Then the politicians of both parties stole it and sold it to their pals in the city. I personally think we need to stop doing this

Indiana Jones

Well I'm not suprised. The staff who work in these privately operated prisons do not receive even half the training of Normal Prison officers - therefore they do not get involved with incidents and are reluctant to if they need to. I know that standard HMP Officers wouldn't go any where near this place to work ! It is a joke and the inmates run the wings. No wonder there is no control - STOP closing prisons to make way for ineffective and failing 'super-prisons'. You are losing well trained, hard working and dedicated staff and instead gaining untrained monkeys who are working for minimum wage and really don't give a hoot.


Unfortunately the problem now is the government want to follow the Q.E hospital( Birm) of the prison service Jokewood and I work in a jail that wants as few staff as Jokewood has, as this is the future. But it's allright I shall tell all 60:1 ratio of prisoners to myself how to behave as my colleague who I can see in the distance will help me when someone decides to punch me in the face.


Didn't prisoners from Shrewsbury Prison go to Oakwood because of the claim that Shrewsbury wasn't adequate so had to be closed down?

Yet another example of public money increasing the profit of a private company who then pays the people doing the work less and provides an inadequate service.

I wish Keith Barrow would take heed and not be going headlong down this route for all of our remaining council services.

But then he probably doesn't care about the stuff that us ordinary folk need as long as he gets to hob-nob with important people at posh dinners and do deals.

Who'd have thought that 5 years ago we had an excellent council in Shropshire - it's frightening how quickly good things can be destroyed by one person.


What Shrewsbury Prison did well in dilapidated conditions aligns with what G4S can not do in a brand new purpose designed jail. I'm sure the Tories will say something like it will get better etc but at the end of the day privatisation means paying more to get less. They might pay a little less today but as we all know the costs rise at RPI+ on contracts but pay only rises by CPI- so the gap will soon close and then start costing more.

We should have had a replacement prison for Shrewsbury so that the expertise and staff structure within the prison service was retained in place.

But as long as Tories are in power all public services will be treated as profit opportunities for businesses not public services to be delivered with quality.

Lucky bs

This report will be tomorrow's chip paper and the public will forget shortly. G4s made money from the Olympic fiasco and they make money from jokewood whilst sleeping sound at night. The politicians have closed public prisons and smashed the moral of good prison officers with experience. The cost on society will be in 10+ years when the current decision makers are spending their fat pensions. Lives are being ruined from staff being assaulted and traumatised by the abuse they are expected to put up with, all this so share holders get a nice yearly divvy. The public need to speak up and say " prisons are not for profit".