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UK: Privatization plan put on hold.

Alan Travis, home affairs editor
Monday May 23, 2005
The Guardian

The home secretary, Charles Clarke, has halted plans to privatise the first cluster of three state-run prisons, after reaching a new agreement with the unions to drive up standards throughout the prison system estate in England and Wales.
The three jails, Elmley, Standford Hill and Swaleside, on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent, together hold 2,000 male inmates and have an annual budget of 37m. They would have been the first group of public sector prisons to be offered to the private sector under a "contestability" deal.
The decision has a wider significance for the involvement of the private and voluntary sectors across the criminal justice system. An initial plan to offer three young offenders' institutions to the private sector faltered after strong opposition from within the criminal justice system. The decision to offer a "cluster of prisons" to private prison companies was seen by the unions as an attempt to persuade US operators into the British market by offering them economies of scale.
Ministers are still looking at the possibility of putting some probation programmes into the hands of private companies and not-for-profit voluntary organisations.
The Home Office minister, Baroness Scotland, said that since the decision to market test the three Isle of Sheppey prisons was announced in March, the Prison Officers' Association and prison service managers had been in talks.
"They have reached an agreement which commits the parties to work together on a revised programme of performance testing and improvement in all prisons, with the prospect of contracting out if this fails to deliver the desired results," she said.
The prison unions have recently signed a new multi-year pay deal linked to improved training and development, which ministers hope will provide for some long-term stability.
Baroness Scotland said the government was still committed to the idea that market testing could drive up standards and encourage innovation in the management of offenders, but this agreement presented an opportunity to demonstrate another approach to introducing radical changes inside the jail system.
"The home secretary has therefore agreed to postpone further work on the Isle of Sheppey market test until September, when he will evaluate progress and decide whether or not to continue with the exercise."
Colin Moses, the POA chairman, welcomed the decision. "This is a rare opportunity of the government listening to all sides of the arguments and allowing the prison service and the POA to work together to achieve our joint aims," Mr Moses said.
Penal reformers also welcomed the decision. Juliet Lyon of the Prison Reform Trust said: "The home secretary is looking to better management and improved staff training, rather than the threat of privatisation, to reform our failing prison system."
http://society.guardian.co.uk/crimeandpunishment/story/0,8150,1490157,00.html



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