Charter Rights
Story Archives
Sign Our Guestbook
View Guestbook
Contact Capp @   or   Post Comments  CAPP Message Board   and  Any Upcoming Events

Bishop Backs Call for Private Jails Debate

David Barrett, PA Home Affairs Correspondent
The Associated Press State & Local Wire
January 25, 2005

The Bishop to HM Prisons backed a penal reform charity's call for an "open and vigorous" debate on prison privatisation today.

The Rt Rev Peter Selby said the policy of encouraging profit-making companies into the sector at a time of rocketing inmate numbers was a question which needed to be addressed.

There may also be "conflicts of interest" which have yet to be tackled, he said.

A new report by the Prison Reform Trust (PRT) - Private Punishment: Who Profits? - said the private sector had improved jail regimes in some cases but raised other questions about the wider impact of efficiency savings.

A PRT spokesman said there was a need to "reassess the merits of prison privatisation and the ethics of large companies profiting from the incarceration of thousands of people".

Dr Selby said: "What the Prison Reform Trust is asking is: are there some specific concerns beyond the general debate about privatisation that apply when prisons are involved?

"If numbers in prisons need to be reduced - as most agree - is it helpful to create an interest in their growth among companies and their shareholders?

"Are there some real conflicts of interest which we are likely to have to address: for instance, will judges and jurors have to be vetted to ensure that they do not have an interest in sending more people to prison?

"More generally, if prisons become part of the 'commercial sector', do those running them have an interest in reducing regimes or staffing levels in ways that militate against the restorative aims of imprisonment?"

Even if most prisons remain in public hands their operation could be "dictated" by privately-run jails, he added.

General secretary of the Trades Union Congress, Brendan Barber, also backed the new report, which raised concerns about private companies' lack of accountability to Parliament and the public's inability to examine contracts signed with the Home Office.

There are currently 10 private prisons in England and Wales: Altcourse, near Liverpool; Ashfield, near Bristol; Bronzefield in Ashford, Middlesex; Doncaster; Dovegate in Staffordshire, Forest Bank, near Manchester; Lowdham Grange, near Nottingham; Parc at Bridgend, South Wales; Rye Hill, near Rugby and the Wolds at Everthorpe, East Yorkshire.

Another private jail is due to open at Peterborough in March.

PRT director Juliet Lyon said: "Even those who believe that ethical or moral considerations about prison privatisation are misplaced or outdated should surely stop and think about the impact of prison privatisation on criminal justice policy and the treatment of offenders."

Dr Selby is the Bishop of Worcester and Bishop to HM Prisons.

Earlier this month he backed calls to repeal the laws which ban the heir to the throne marrying a Roman Catholic.

A Prison Service spokesman said: "We welcome the ongoing debate about the contribution that private prisons have made over the past decade in raising standards and controlling costs of the whole prison system.

"The issues raised in this report have been the subject of debate for some time and there is little that is new in it.

"Safety in contracted prisons is no less an issue and a priority than in public sector prisons. Surveys conducted among prisoners indicate that those in contracted prisons value the quality of their relationships with staff and feel safe as a result.

"The fact that there were no self-inflicted deaths in privately managed prisons in 2004 says something about the safe environment being created.

"Contestability and competition is about value and improved services, not price. Market testing is about service delivery, not growth in capacity.

"There is no evidence that private sector prisons deliver a reduced regime. In fact, they set the highest standards in this area."

| Post Any Upcoming Events | Top of Page | Home Page | Post Comments on Message Board |