A report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate found that 60% of its inmates were locked up all day, and there were only "vague plans to restore the prison to normality". The prison campaign group the Howard League for Penal Reform talked about conditions that were "truly alarming".
Again, the verdict was damning: data had been falsified, national standards had not been met, there was a culture of "lying and cheating", and the service offered to the public was simply "not good enough".
Amazingly, its contracts with government are subject to what's known as "commercial confidentiality" and as a private firm it's not open to Freedom of Information requests, so looking into the details of what it does is fraught with difficulty.
You'll also see its logo on the Docklands Light Railway and Woolwich ferry, and is a partner in both Liverpool's Merseyrail network, and the Northern Rail franchise, which sees to trains that run in a huge area between the North Midlands and English-Scottish border.
The company is also set to bid for an even bigger healthcare contract in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough: the NHS's single-biggest privatisation – or, if you prefer, "outsourcing" – to date, which could be worth over £1bn.
It was renamed Serco in 1987, after a management buy-out, and floated on the stock exchange the following year. In the 25 subsequent years, during which the UK has grown ever-fonder of outsourcing and privatisation, Serco has grown at an amazing rate.