The government announced today its plans to close two prisons saving millions of pounds of taxpayers' money. Commenting on this decision Juliet Lyon, director, Prison Reform Trust, said:
The only way to achieve a moderate justice system in which the punishment fits the crime is to reduce our over-reliance on imprisonment. The government should now publish its plans as to how monies saved by prison closures will be re-invested to reduce reoffending.
The government also announced today that the management of nine prisons will be subject to competition in the autumn. Commenting on this decision Juliet Lyon, director, Prison Reform Trust, said:
The announcement that the management of nine prisons will be put out to tender in the autumn should result in close scrutiny of the decision and its implementation. The government should publish detailed plans of how any new contracts will be monitored and regulated and how quality and standards will be maintained and improved. A practical concern is that a tendering exercise on this scale, together with massive budgetary cuts, will deflect existing services from the essential day job of managing prisons and prisoners and working to reduce reoffending.
By last year the UK already had the most privatised prison system in Europe with nearly 10,000 prisoners, or 11.6% of its prisoner population, held in private prisons. This is a higher proportion than in the US where the figure is around 9%. Only Australia has a higher percentage of prisoners held in private prisons. No other government in the world has attempted to contract out so many of its existing prisons making this an essentially untried and risky strategy.
Concerns have been raised that competition driven by cost savings could lead to impoverished regimes. While performance across the private sector varies, just as it does in the public sector, the ratio of prisoners to prison officers is lower and the staff turnover is higher.
With the profit motive expanding across the custodial estate, vested interests could create pressure to grow the market and further inflate prison numbers. This would run counter to government plans to reserve prison for serious and violent offenders and otherwise build on the success of community penalties which are now outperforming short prison sentences in reducing reoffending.