Walter MacGowan

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Walter MacGowan worked in the prison service from 1970 to 1992, before joining Group 4 until 2004. He became a key executive of Geo Group UK, a detention centre company.

1992 Strangeways to Group 4

In July, MacGowan was briefly governor of Strangeways prison, which was earmarked for privatisation. He caused controversy when he resigned after just six weeks.[1] In August, he joined private security giant Group 4 as director of prisons, and was "involved in projects related to the privatisation of prisons and prisoner escort services."[2]

1993 Wolds prison

In April, MacGowan was made director of Group 4's Wolds remand prison.[3]

In August, an inspection of Wolds by Judge Stephen Tumim found that “drug use was unacceptably high” and it criticised "weaknesses in the contract between the Home Office and Group 4 and the lack of financial checks which made it 'impossible" to determine whether the jail offered value for money'.”[4] It said there had been a “high incidence of assault”.

"His report found that in the 12 months to March 31 there had been 29 recorded assaults by inmates on staff, 21 attacks on other inmates, two incidents of food refusal, three rooftop incidents and nine concerted acts of indiscipline. Drugs had been found on 46 occasions and some prisoners said drugs, including heroin and cocaine, were easier to obtain at The Wolds than at other prisons. The report estimated that it cost £312 a week to keep a prisoner, excluding the cost of gas, electricity and water."[5] The report also found that inmates were paid £1 per day for work inside the jail.

“Walter MacGowan, director of the Wolds, says that it would make little difference if there were more staff in each unit: two officers could be overpowered as easily as one. 'If you introduce more than one member of staff, you don't necessarily introduce supervision. What you do find is that staff start talking to each other rather than to the prisoners.' Like the inmates, he was adamant that there were no more drugs in the Wolds than in other jails, pointing out the difficulties of eliminating them altogether. For instance, drugs had recently been found in a baby's nappy. However, with better checks on visitors there were fewer drugs coming into the prison than when Judge Stephen Tumim, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, visited it in May, he said.”[6]

In 1995, a journalist interviewed MacGowan at Wolds.[7] The Financial Times reported that at Wolds only seven out of 190 staff were former prison service staff. MacGowan claimed that "the ability to mould custody officers from scratch is a net gain." The article said "For private operators, staff flexibility and commitment is critical to the cost savings enabling them to undercut the Prison Service." MacGowan claimed that he fulfilled the contract "including allowing prisoners out of cells for the unusually long period of 13 or 14 hours a day - with about four-fifths of the staff employed by equivalent Prison Service establishments."

1996 Buckley Hall prison

In 1996, MacGowan was Group 4's director of operations at HMP Buckley Hall. At an emergency debate in Parliament to discuss problems at the prison, MacGowan was 'smuggled' into the house of commons and sat next to Home Secretary Michael Howard "in a specially-reserved box of seats next to the Government front bench." Liberal Democrat Ms Lynne said: "You can't have private companies briefing ministers on the floor of the House."[8]

2001 Altcourse prison

In 2001, MacGowan was Director of Group 4's Altcourse prison in Liverpool, housing 615 inmates.[9] MacGowan told a reporter that, "We deliberately avoided people with experience of prison work because we didn't want to bring the problems of the state system into our prison". Altcourse employed fewer prison officers per prisoner than state prisons and paid them less.

In 2003, he told another reporter that private prisons were like "having a blank sheet. You can make your prison design fit the managerial structures and operational options that you have. We operate to a contract. It is clearly specified what is expected and we are subjected to quite a few performance measures to make sure we deliver."[10] At that time, Altcourse was 392 prisoners over capacity.

2004-2011 Geo Group UK

In 2004, MacGowan co-founded Geo Group UK, the British division of American private prison giant Geo Group Inc. He set up the company alongside Colin Dobell, who had previously worked for Global Solutions Ltd., which was part of Group 4. Geo Group UK won Home Office contracts to run Campsfield House IRC from May 2006 to May 2011, Harmondsworth IRC from June 2009 to September 2014, and Dungavel IRC from 2011 to 2016.

2012 Ubiquitous Consulting

In 2012, MacGowan set up his own criminal justice consultancy firm, working in the UK and internationally.[11]


  1. Times, “Jail head quits - Walter MacGowan” 24 July 1992
  2. Times, “Jail chief goes private” 19 August 1992
  3. Times, “Group 4 moves prison chief” 29 April 1993
  4. Independent, “Inmates find Wolds 'civilised': A relaxed regime diffuses tension at the privately run jail criticised for 'corrupting lethargy', Adam Sage finds” 26 August 1993
  5. Independent, “Inmates find Wolds 'civilised': A relaxed regime diffuses tension at the privately run jail criticised for 'corrupting lethargy', Adam Sage finds” 26 August 1993
  6. Independent, “Inmates find Wolds 'civilised': A relaxed regime diffuses tension at the privately run jail criticised for 'corrupting lethargy', Adam Sage finds” 26 August 1993
  7. Financial Times “Business jailers - Andrew Adonis looks at the advance of privatisation in the prison service” 21 June 1995
  8. Sunday Mirror, “Howard in dock over jail chief” 21 April 1996
  9. Financial Times “The prison service finds the best of both worlds” 2 October 2001
  10. Daily Post, 'The case for privatisation' 9 April 2003
  11. Walter MacGowan, LinkedIn