Privatisation of Prisons: A Public Disaster


Larry O’Callaghan, a Public and Commercial Services (PCS) full time officer, exposes the widespread damage government policy is doing to the Prison Service.

The Prison Service now has 16 private prisons and between 20 and 25% of prisoners are housed in private prisons, by a distance a world record. The recent decision to close seven local public prisons included a decision to expand three of the private prisons at public expense. The day before, it was announced that two thirds of probation will be handed over to the usual suspects in the private sector.

PrisonPrivatisationA small and welcome drop in the prison population could have allowed a reduction in overcrowding and hence staff being able to place more emphasis on rehabilitation. However the prison closures (and private prisons expansion) mean that the Prison Service will continue to operate on a 24% rate of overcrowding. Private prisons draw big profits from overcrowding as they charge for prisoners above capacity. Overcrowding is always higher in the private prisons, and they of course welcome this.

Any consideration of prisons takes us quickly to law and order. England and Wales has an imprisonment rate of 153 per 100,000 of the population; France has 102 and Germany has 83. The global private security companies welcome a high prison population.

Many of these prisoners have serious social problems. 25% of children in youth custody have special educational needs and 29% have difficulties in literacy. Around 86% were excluded from school and 43% have not attended school since the age of 14. 21% of all prisoners have problems with reading and writing. 20 to 30% of prisoners have learning difficulties. An incredible 62% of prisoners have personality disorders. 25% of prisoners are from a minority ethnic group compared to 10% of the general population.

The dire and worrying statistics go on and on, and make truly depressing reading; over half of women in prisons have suffered domestic abuse and a third have been sexually abused. One in ten girls in prisons have been paid for sex.

This adds up to a complex social problem and maybe no short term solutions, other than an understanding that we should focus on the disaffected youth at an early stage. Meanwhile prisons should be an environment where offending behaviour can be addressed and prisoners offered basic training and education. The government has no interest other then taking people off the street and giant global security companies see this whole area as an opportunity to print money. The grossly inept G4S employ more people in the UK than Tesco.

The government is now pursuing an agenda of using prisoners in workshops to do low quality work on contracts and making money from this, with no training or rehabilitation element. As prisoners are paid under £10 per week, you can imagine that they can make competitive bids. This free market philosophy is now within the public prisons, albeit as usual the private prisons embrace this on a greater scale.

Private prisons make their profits (they aim for at least a 7% profit) from overcrowding, and staff cuts and also paying staff less and reducing terms and conditions. Staff numbers are cut to the bone and hence the prison becomes a warehouse. Also safety is undermined; (final statistic) 41% of prisoners report feeling unsafe — as staff numbers decline.

All of this privatisation has been done away from the public eye and has never been scrutinised. PCS believes that privatisation in the Prison Service should be independently reviewed, that the true finances should be examined (contract awards are riddled with questionable pro — privatisation accounting), and the impact of privatisation on the prisoners and staff should be assessed. Our petition seeking an independent review is gaining increased support and I urge ask readers to sign this and ask your friends and family to sign also; the link is www.pcs.org.uk/prisonspetition

The need for an independent review has been highlighted by the February publication of a report which claims to be independent and concludes that all prisons be privatised. This childlike report is from the right wing think tank Reform, whose £million per year income comes from who knows where (though G4S, Sodexo and Serco all donate generously to them), and I noted they have a partial charitable status which presumably helps with the tax. The report is a crude distortion and cherry picking of statistics, transparently biased and ignorant. Other than the sad reality that our media treats the report as being credible, it would be amusing.

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