The American prison company whose director set up Iraq’s infamous Abu Ghraib jail for use by the US military is bidding to run a number of prisons in Britain.
The Utah-based Management and Training Corporation (MTC) has set up a London headquarters and is in advanced negotiations to operate at least one prison in Britain. It is also planning bids to build and manage a number of other jails, including the extension of Belmarsh in south-east London, Britain’s maximum security prison, where terrorist suspects are being held without trial.
The disclosure has provoked anger among MPs and prison groups. Brian Caton, general secretary of the Prison Officers’ Association, said: ‘Serious questions have to be asked about a British prison being run by a company whose director was in charge of setting up a system that led to the atrocities and torture of Iraqi detainees by prison personnel.’
After Saddam Hussein’s regime was toppled, John Ashcroft, the US attorney general, put MTC director Lane McCotter in charge of reopening Iraq’s prison system. He helped to rebuild Abu Ghraib and trained Iraqi citizens to work in prisons.
New York’s senior senator, Democrat Charles Schumer, has been pushing for an investigation into any alleged role played by civilian contractors in the prisoner abuse scandal. McCotter left Iraq to resume his executive job at MTC in September 2003, a month before the worst documented atrocities against Iraqi prisoners occurred. In a statement, he insisted he had nothing to do with training military personnel to run the prison and had no involvement with Abu Ghraib after handing it over to the US armed forces. He said he was ‘offended and sickened’ by the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.
Last week US Staff Sergeant Ivan Frederick was sen tenced to eight years in prison for sexually and physically abusing detainees at Abu Ghraib.
There is no suggestion that McCotter was personally involved in the abuses at Abu Ghraib, but questions have been raised about whether the culture of the US private penal system influenced the environment that allowed the atrocities to occur.
McCotter, a Vietnam veteran, has a chequered record of running US jails. In 1997 he was forced to resign as a senior prison official in Utah after a scandal surrounding the death of a mentally ill inmate strapped naked to a chair for 16 hours. This year, Schumer wrote to Ashcroft, asking why someone with McCotter’s controversial history was sent to Iraq.
Last year MTC was criticised by the US Justice Department over its management of Santa Fe prison in New Mexico which was found to have unsafe conditions and lack adequate medical care for inmates. The company said the problems have been resolved and it has had its contract renewed.
Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman Mark Oaten expressed concerns that Britain’s prison culture could be undermined by the arrival of American firms.
‘The government is in cloud-cuckoo-land if it thinks privatising prisons will solve the mess. The problems of suicides, overcrowding and reoffending will not be solved by bringing in a private company from the US.’
This view was echoed by Labour MP Gwyn Prosser, who sits on the home affairs select committee and said the Home Office should ‘proceed with caution’. Last year the Prison Service announced a £3 billion, 10-year refurbishment programme of Britain’s prison network. Since 1992, 13 prisons or secure training centres in Britain have been built and managed by private contractors under the government’s Private Finance Initiative. The POA has been vociferous in its campaign against prison privatisation.
Carl Stuart, MTC’s communications director, said MTC began its corporate life as a training company aimed at helping offenders and has a long track record in successful rehabilitation.
Courtesy News Watcher