A private company that has been ordered to improve the operation of a Salford prison will keep the contract until further notice after strengthening security.
The city’s besieged Forest Bank jail was issued with a 45-day improvement notice by the government, as reported by the Manchester Evening News in August.
The “significant concern and rectification” was struck at the jail by the Ministry of Justice.
The prison is run by Sodexo Justice Services, and if no progress had been made, the company could have lost the contract, which is scheduled to run until 2025.
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In a statement, the MOJ said: “Forest Bank’s rectification notice was repealed in December following significant improvement.
“A major renovation project has been completed, security has been tightened with new windows and nets, and an ambitious recruitment plan has been launched.”
Security improvements include the replacement of hundreds of windows, new nets in training yards and closer work with Greater Manchester Police.
A major renovation program has led to improvements to the wings, and rehabilitation workshops have reopened.
Efforts are being made to improve staff retention and recruit more people through a new campaign.
But the MOJ will continue to “monitor performance through routine contract management arrangements.
The issuance of the notice has triggered a huge renovation program in the Agecroft prison, where its inmate capacity is at 200 so that each wing can be renewed. This meant that some prisoners were transferred.
The action from the MOJ came after it sent officers in to inspect the prison, which has been hit by a series of scandals and internal investigations in recent years.
It also saw the head of the prison resign in the summer. Director Matt Spencer resigned and was replaced by Ian Whiteside, who had been director of HMP Bronzefield in Ashton, Surrey, as interim chief.
In 2019, drugs were found in prison 654 times – the third highest number in Britain’s prison system for such seizures.
There was also concern about the standard of maintenance of the building, the Manchester Evening News understands.
The prison opened in 2000 and accepted its first prisoners in January of that year. A riot broke out in July, a week after its official opening. Since then, it has had a motley history
In July, it was revealed that flaming packages suspected of being filled with smuggled goods were hurled over walls in an attempt to circumvent prison security.
In June, the Manchester Evening News reported that an investigation had been launched into allegations that a brochure indicating which prisoners were involved in sexual crimes came into the hands of a prison inmate.
In February, two prison guards who stole thousands of pounds worth of electronics from Forest Bank and resold them were jailed.
Two other employees, one who had worked as a security chief and anti-corruption chief in the prison and another who was a security analyst, had previously been barred from their role in the thefts.
In April, cell phones, steroids, SIM cards and electrical smuggling were found during a police operation targeting cells of senior gang members at Forest Bank.
Tobacco, cigarette paper, cannabis, spice paper, lighters and screwdrivers were also found.
Cells were searched at 04.00 by prison guards working on the basis of intelligence from Greater Manchester Police about those who were at the top of organized criminal groups.
Operation Dragonfire was launched after an increase in the number of phones, with mobile phones being thrown over the prison walls.
In January 2021, a prison officer who brought paper with the drug spice into Forest Bank was barricaded inside. He also brought “a large amount of tobacco” into prison and had received £ 50,000 in unexplained deposits in his account.
In November 2020, masked men on a motorcycle were filmed as they burned a vehicle on outside Forest Bank.
In 2019, a prison officer whose car was petrol-bombed in jail lost his job after it was revealed that the vehicle was neither taxed nor insured.
A spokesman for HMP Forest Bank was asked to comment on the issuance of the improvement order: “We can not comment on contractual matters”.