G4S has been fined at least 100 times for breaching its contracts to run prisons since 2010, according to data obtained by Labour.
Andrew Selous, the prisons minister, revealed that almost £3m has been paid in fines since David Cameron came to power, after Labour made repeated requests to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).
The data showed that one prison alone, HMP Rye Hill, has been fined on 28 separate occasions and incurred £1m in penalties.
In total, eight institutions had to pay back £2.7m over 100 separate occasions, although Selous stressed that the department uses the term “financial remedies” rather than “fines”.
G4S management of prisons has been under particular scrutiny since an undercover BBC Panorama investigation exposed footage of staff appearing to use excessive force on children at the Medway secure training centre (STC) in Kent.
Louise Haigh, Sheffield Heeley MP and a shadow civil service minister, said Labour had to “prise this vital data out of the hands of a desperately reluctant MoJ”.
“This reveals that G4S are failing repeatedly on contracts worth billions of pounds with over 100 contractual failings in just five years,” she said. “With G4S responsible for the safety, security and smooth running of some of our most high-profile prisons this is a troubling revelation.
“Despite this, the fines being paid by G4S are pitifully small and constitute nothing more than a slap on the wrist. At the Medway youth jail, where an undercover investigation revealed endemic child abuse, G4S only received a meagre £700 fine. It’s no surprise they’re so slow to get their act together.”
Examples of poor performance that could incur fines include failure to achieve search targets, smuggling of contraband items, failure of security procedures, serious cases of “concerted indiscipline”, hostage taking, and roof climbing. Other cases could be failure to lock doors, poor hygiene or a dip in staffing levels.
The MoJ said the figures showed the department did not put up with failings among contractors. “Private providers play an important role in managing offenders, but poor performance is not tolerated,” he said.
“As these fines demonstrate, we take tough action where providers fail to meet rigorous contractual obligations and standards. Performance is closely monitored and providers can have their contracts terminated for consistent poor performance.”
The system means private prison providers are incentivised to report poor performance because there are severe financial penalties for failure to disclose. The prisons are self-reporting but the performance of companies is monitored and managed closely by the department, the National Offender Management Service and Youth Justice Board.
Jerry Petherick, the managing director for G4S custodial and detention services, said the company’s MoJ contracts were “very tightly monitored and we are rightly held to account by on-site government controllers in addition to the various statutory inspecting arrangements”.
“We are incentivised to report operational breaches, such as a dip in staffing levels, security incidents or seizures of contraband because the penalties for not reporting are considerably more punitive,” he added.
“This kind of structure is a powerful motivator to improve our service and therefore the results for prisoners and the taxpayers and communities we ultimately serve. In the case of Rye Hill, financial penalties peaked two years ago and in the prison’s most recent independent review, inspectors found that the prison is performing ‘very well’ with offender management processes among the best they have seen.”