Serco escorted prisoners to court in black cabs

Serco faces fresh criticism after it emerged the support services group has been taking prisoners to court in black cabs as part of a £420m prisoner escort contract.

By Graham Ruddick
8:30PM BST 16 Oct 2011

The FTSE 100 company last night conceded it was suffering “transitional problems” with IT systems used to arrange journeys and the situation is “not ideal”.

It is understood at least 80 taxis have been used to transport prisoners since the contract began as the start of September, while 900 prisoners have been returned to jail late causing Serco to pay up to £500 per night to house them in police cells for the night instead.

Conservative MP Patrick Mercer called the used of taxis rather than secure vehicles “ridiculous” and said he would raise the issue with the Home Secretary.

Serco is one of the biggest suppliers of services to the Government. It runs the “Boris bike” scheme in London, manages prisons and school inspections.

The contract for prisoner escort and custody for London and East England is worth £42m a year to Serco for seven years. It has the option of an extra three years.

The company says it has only used taxis when the prisoner “is compliant, non-violent, and does not present an identified risk of escape”. The prisoners have travelled double-handcuffed and with two Serco prisoner custody officers.

Serco will meet the costs of the taxi fares and police cells. It is also likely to incur financial penalties, although the scale of these have not been disclosed by the Ministry of Justice.

The company said it had used the taxis to “optimise capacity for the transport of higher risk prisoners” and “to ensure that certain categories of vulnerable prisoners – such as juveniles and females – arrive back at their allocated Young Offenders Institute or prisons as early in the evening as possible”.

It is understood the company, which transports hundreds of prisoners daily, hopes to solve the IT teething problems within a fortnight.

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