After a new computer programme designed to organise pick-up and drop-off times between jails and courts failed, Serco, the security firm, has had to use more than 80 private taxis covered with private hire insurance in 6 weeks.
To get the inmates to court on time, the prison chiefs had to call taxis at the last minute.
Because of the computer problems and delays, 900 prisoners have been returned to their jails too late at night and have not been able to gain entry because the gates are locked.
This has meant that Serco has been forced to search for police cells to accommodate the inmates for the night. Some forces charge between £100 and £500 a night to take prisoners into custody and the total cost could be as much as £300,000.
One court appearance was cancelled and rearranged because a taxi turned up too late.
Critics have called for an inquiry into the arrangement, which wasn’t approved by the Ministry of Justice beforehand.
At the Feltham Young Offenders Institution in South West London, where seven black cab journeys have been made, a source said, “The use of black taxis to transport prisoners is becoming a regular occurrence and there are lots of questions as to why this is happening.
“We cannot see why a company that has been awarded a multi-million-pound contract cannot sort out proper and secure transportation.
“It seems absolutely ridiculous that inmates – violent or otherwise – are being moved about in taxis. The feeling is that the contract has been waved through with undue haste and Serco is making it up as it goes along.”
Serco must provide two prison officers when escorting ‘non-violent’ offenders to court, under the terms of the contract signed off by the Ministry of Justice, which came into force on 31st August 2011 and is valued at £42 million a year for seven years.
According to the Ministry of Justice, the arrangements will save the government over £250 million a year as the new computer system should take the transportation of prisoners more efficient.
A spokesmen for Serco said “The security and safety of prisoners remains our top priority at all times.
“In co-operation with HM Courts and Tribunals Service, the National Offender Management Service and the police, we are working to resolve the current operational issues and restore the service to the standard of efficiency which we, our customers and the public expect.”