Monday, June 29, 2009

Private prisons are worse prisons

Currently, National is planning on privatising most of the prison system. Its justification for this is that it will supposedly lead to better management, fewer escapes and assaults, and a lower rate of recidivism. But does it actually work? Not in the UK, it doesn't:

Britain's private prisons are performing worse than those run by the state, according to data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

The findings, based on the overall performances of 132 prisons in England and Wales, appear to undermine claims by ministers that the greater use of private jails is raising standards for the accommodation of more than 83,000 prisoners held across both sectors.

Separate figures, also released under the right-to-know law, show that nearly twice as many prisoner complaints are upheld in private prisons as they are in state-run institutions.


[The Ministry of Justice's Prison Performance Assessment Tool] ranks the prisons out of four gradings using a wide range of measurements, including escapes, assaults and rehabilitation. In the second quarter of last year, the average overall score for prisons in the private sector was 2.7. For the 123 public sector prisons the average was 2.83.

In the following quarter this gap had widened to 2.6 and 2.85. This is a difference of almost 10 per cent. No private prison attained the top mark of 4, defined as "exceptional performance."

The evidence is clear: private prisons are worse prisons. But they make private prison companies such as the GEO Group and G4S a large amount of money. And that's the primary purpose of the exercise: looting the state for the benefit of their foreign friends.

Unfortunately, given the government's effective contracting out of the OIA in its private prison legislation, we will have great difficulty uncovering such evidence of non-performance here. Unlike the public prisons they will be "competing" with, the private prisons will not be subject to the OIA, while Corrections, which will presumably gather such data as part of its performance management, will be able to hide behind "commercial sensitivity" to keep it secret. The upshot is that we will have private prisons with no independent means of monitoring them. And that is simply not good enough.