United Kindgom

Public outcry over alleged mistreatments in a Sodexo-run Prison

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This article was originally published in French. Translation: Egor Lazebnik.

While incarcerated at the end of November in the privatized Peterborough prison, run by French multinational Sodexo, an English woman suffered a miscarriage. According to her lawyer, she was left without medical attention for 3 days by prison staff. "There was blood everywhere and she was required to clean it up", said her lawyer, Philip Gibbs. "The foetus was not removed from the cell. It was very traumatizing." The prison in Peterborough, between Leicester and Cambridge, in Western Central England, opened in 2005. It is operated by a private company, namely the French group Sodexo, which claims to specialize in "quality of life services", through its subsidiary Sodexo Justice Services.

The prisoner was a drug addict and suffers from mental problems. She had just lost her mother. According to her lawyer, probation services, in charge of her case for eleven months, did nothing to help her obtain the benefits she was entitled to. She was sentenced to eleven months in prison after she stole 14 pounds (16.50 euros) worth of food from a supermarket. The sentence was handed down after several previous judgments against the woman for minor thefts.

Asked for comment by the British press, a Sodexo spokesman declared that the group does "not recognise the version of events which have been related recently regarding this incident", specifying that the company does not have the right to "comment publicly on individual cases." He added that all the prisoners have access to "the same level of NHS services as those in the community." The UK Justice Ministry has announced an investigation.

Sodexo has just won a contract to run another prison in the UK, in Northumberland. Its first move was to downsize the prison staff from 580 to 380 people. The French company has, in addition to the Peterborough prison, three other prisons in its British "portfolio".

The conservative government is engaged in a frantic, all-round privatization of its justice system. The UK already boasts the highest proportion of private prisons in the world. The authorities now want to privatize probation services (Sodexo is a candidate) and fine collection. The objective of the government is to reduce public spending, regardless of the practical consequences in these privatized services.

The main beneficiaries of these contracts, besides Sodexo, are outsourcing and security services giants such as G4S and Serco. While Sodexo was being granted its contract in Northumberland, its two competitors were being accused of having cheated British citizens out of tens of millions of pounds sterling by charging the government for electronic bracelets for non-existent ex-prisoners. A report by the Minister of Justice on UK prisons even heavily criticized two prisons run by Serco and G4S.

Despite all of this, this is still a model that Sodexo CEO Michel Landel would like to import to France. A few weeks ago, in the Figaro, he regretted that "there is still….quite a long way to go" , with private businesses still being "not well looked-upon in France." One wonders why.

Olivier Petitjean

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Photo : Peterborough Prison, CC

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