Commenting on Ken Clarke’s statement on prisons competition, Juliet Lyon, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:
No one is going to argue with an aim to reduce current unacceptable prison reoffending rates but will a move to privatise more prisons deliver this outcome?
Since the first private jail was ushered in 1992 by Ken Clarke, then Home Secretary, a further ten have opened. The results are mixed: some private prisons have proved innovative and successful while others have been strongly criticised for their high staff turnover, tendency to cut corners and weaknesses in safety and security.
Privatisation raises ethical questions about the role of imprisonment in our society. Loss of liberty is the most extreme form of punishment we have. It has to be well regulated and managed and must meet exacting standards. People in prison should always be treated with decency and respect. Arrangements for commissioning and contracting must ensure proper oversight and full accountability.
Even before this move to greater privatisation, proportionally more people were held in private prisons in England and Wales than anywhere else in Europe or indeed in America. At a time when government is committed to reducing any unnecessary use of imprisonment, and shrinking prison numbers back to an unavoidable minimum, is it sensible to open up to market forces and risk growing vested interest? On the other hand, could increased privatisation improve prison management and curb any remaining restrictive practices? In ten years time will this prove a watershed in achieving a modern prison system of last resort or a costly mistake?