NEWS10 September 2013

G4S ‘fails to reassure’ MRS over prisoner calls

Government UK

UK — The Market Research Society (MRS) has written again to G4S calling for further clarification about the ‘market research’ reportedly carried out by prisoners at its Oakwood prison.


Frost said that G4S’s response to her first letter had failed to give “sufficient information to reassure me that the practice in which you are engaged would not fall under the general definition of ‘sugging’” – selling under the guise of research.

The correspondence between MRS and G4S was prompted by an article published by the Daily Mail, which reported that prisoners at HMP Oakwood, as well as Drake Hall prison, were earning £20 a week conducting telephone surveys. However the description of the survey, as given by the Daily Mail, raised concerns that an element of sugging might be involved.

G4S has repeatedly denied that Oakwood prisoners are engaged in sugging. In response to Frost’s first letter, Jerry Petherick, G4S’s managing director for custodial and detention services, said prisoners are “not involved in any activity which might constitute sugging”.

“Rather,” Petherick said, “they conduct a consumer lifestyle survey – a series of simple questions about people’s spending choices across a range of areas (including utilities, insurance and pensions) on behalf of our commercial partner, a data collection specialist.”

However, Frost responded that: “So called ‘lifestyle surveys’ are labels often used to lead respondents into the mistaken belief that the survey is genuine market research. The respondent is unaware that his or her information is being used by a commercial third party to generate sales leads, or even being sold on to a further commercial third party to exploit.”

Petherick would not name G4S’s commercial partner, citing “commercial reasons”, although he did say that “at this time [the company] are [sic] not a member of your organisation”. He went on to state that the prison work scheme is operating with “a number of regulatory controls in place”. “All activity is undertaken in compliance with the Data Protection Act and with Ofcom regulation; and data collected is screened against the Telephony Preference Scheme Register [sic],” said Petherick.

Frost concluded: “Whilst we would obviously prefer that the public are protected by knowing that your telephone call handlers are properly trained, and subject to proper professional oversight, we would at least like to be reassured that the words ‘market research’, ‘research’, ‘survey’ or any other phrases which might mislead as to the purpose of the exercise, are not used in your scripts, that you are clearly identifying the company behind the commercial data collection exercise and that you are clearly explaining to respondents the commercial usage to which their data will be put.”

The full G4S letter is available online here. The MRS correspondence is here.



11 years ago

Having worked for G4S I know first hand that everything they do is underhanded and they are incapable of telling simple truths. It;s irrelevant what security risk the prisoner is; Prisoners are prisoners at the end of the day and for them to have access to such personal information is baffling. Who knows what they do with the information that they have gathered.

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11 years ago

I wonder if the people answering questions about their 'lifestyle' would be happy about it if they found out that prisoners, and potentially career criminals are the people they are disclosing things to? Its good that this company is trying to train prisoners to reintegrate to society upon release but this feels more like flagrant money making than skills development.

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11 years ago

The MRS needs to bare its teeth in this.

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11 years ago

Has anyone conducted any research to see if these stories are affecting the response rates to research? One could hypothesise that it might put some people off replying to research requests in the future. Glad the MRS is following it up though and they need to be visibly doing this to reassure the general public.

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