Private Prisons Fiasco
In April, the Government announced it would take HMP Birmingham permanently back from G4S into public ownership, after an appalling violence and inspection report last August.
Despite this failure, the Government plans to invest in private prisons, starting with two additional prisons at Wellingborough and Glen Parva whilst HMP Bedford is starved of adequate funds.
Under the Conservatives, the driving down of prison staffing levels and budgets was an explicit attempt by the former Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, to lower the costs of public prisons to those in the private sector.
This has proven a dangerous race to the bottom. Grayling also oversaw the disastrous outsourcing of prison maintenance works to Carillion.
Despite the widespread failings at private prisons, the same companies – G4S, Sodexo, Serco, and others – involved in these failures could be charged with running the proposed new private prisons.
These new private prisons are to be built with public money, with notorious blacklist Kier winning the construction contract for the first of them in Wellingborough, yet the profits won’t go into the public purse as the prisons will be then be handed over the private sector.
I asked the new Prison’s Minister why the public sector was banned from bidding for the contract and his answer made no sense. He said he wanted to keep the distribution balanced by offering half to the private and half to the public sector. He cited HMP Birmingham as an example of awarding a contract to the public sector, yet it only came back into public ownership at a cost of £450m because the private company G4s was stripped of the contract when it failed so spectacularly to run it safely.
The Government defends its decision to build more private prisons by arguing that all opposition is simply “ideological”, but the truth is that running prisons for profit simply doesn’t work.
Today, I asked the Justice Secretary David Gauke why the public sector were not allowed to bid for the contract to build the new prison at Wellingborough. His dismissive response about the need to ‘balance the estate’ and have a ‘mix of providers’ is absolute nonsense. I seriously doubt that there is any evidence whatsoever that having such a mix is beneficial and it is clear in fact that both the privatisation of the prison and probation service has failed.
I’ll follow up my question with a letter, asking him to explain his comments – and also to tell me why our local prison is being starved of much needed investment.