Friday, October 13, 2006

More on New Labour and the prisons crisis

Back in the early nineties, opposition home affairs spokesperson Jack Straw declared it ‘morally unacceptable for the private sector to undertake the incarceration of those whom the state has decided need to be imprisoned’.

Writing in the Prison Officers’ Association journal, he added that he had 'a fundamental objection to prisons run by the private sector’. Private sector prisons set up by the Tories would be taken back into the public sector as soon as contractually possible, he promised.

Within one month of becoming home secretary, Straw signed all the prison PFI contracts in the pipeline. So much for ‘fundamental objections’. Politicians break promises all the time, but rarely so brazenly and with such alacrity.

As I pointed out on this blog earlier this week, prisoner numbers have risen by a third under New Labour, and at over 80,000, inmates exceed the capacity of jails to hold them.

So what is the government doing about it? Well, to coin a phrase, it is allowing the private sector to undertake the incarceration of more of those whom the state has decided need to imprisoned:
‘The private sector appears set to benefit from the crisis facing the prison service with contracts worth a total of £1.5bn up for grabs as the Home Office prepares a significant increase in prison places …

‘Options being considered within the Home Office include expanding the size of private prisons, a majority of which have spare land ready for development, and construction and management of some, if not all, of a new generation of up to six new prisons under private finance initiative contracts.

‘Nor has the Home Office ruled out having to turn to the private sector in the shorter term to provide additional private security staff to supervise prisoners in police cells and in converted military barracks.

‘Among the 157 prison establishments across England, Wales and Scotland there are 12 privately contracted jails, holding about 10 per cent of the prison population. That makes the UK the most privatised prison system in Europe.’

Companies after a slice of the bang ‘em up market include Serco, GSL, UK Detention Services and Group 4 Securicor.


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