20/05/2010 - Prisons: A recipe for disaster

THIS MONTH’S General Election was dominated by various economic issues.  The Tories, Labour and the Liberal Democrats agreed that the economic downturn was a bad thing.  However, its effects could only be ‘rectified’ by cuts, cuts and more cuts. Those cuts are just around the corner, so hold on tight – it’s going to be a bumpy ride.


However, one economic issue that didn’t get much airplay was that relating to Britain’s prisons.


During the election campaign, the Prison Officers Association (POA) and Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) challenged the politicians to "come clean" about their prison and penal policies - against the backdrop of continued privatisation and budget cuts.


Both unions feel that budget cuts and overcrowding were undermining efforts to tackle reoffending and had made prisons increasingly dangerous places to work.  And the obsession with privatisation was one of the major factors behind the problems facing prisons.


Indeed, the POA are so concerned about this that they have launched a Prisons Are Not For Profit campaign.


The privatization of prisons is, of course, economically driven.  Outlining this drive, the POA note:


“The privatisation of prisons as a concept was exported by the United States of America and successive British Governments have increased the prisons for profit sector that now make up 10% of the prison estate, which is a higher percentage than any other country. The Ministry of Justice recently announced in April 2009 that the Government now intends to increase the number of privately managed prisons through a programme of competition where the public sector are excluded from bidding and through the market testing of existing public prisons deemed to be performing badly and/ or which appear to be costly.”


The POA are opposed to this type of privatization on moral grounds as well.  This type of private profit is derived from imprisonment.  And the private companies involved, actively lobby to increase the prison population and build more prisons.


The POA claims that its members provide “provide an essential service protecting public safety and tackling criminal behaviour. Budget cuts and privatisation threaten to undermine this.”




Solidarity agrees with this POA assessment. 


However, we feel that the Con-Dem coalition government will accelerate the privatisation of the prisons.  They are also likely to institute budget cuts as well.   (The Con-Dem coalition government has already said that it wants "accelerated" action to cut the budget deficit.  Therefore, there will be £6bn of spending cuts this year.) 



We also feel that the Liberal Democrats will be unable to influence the right wing of the Tory party - the ‘hang ‘em and flog ‘em all’ brigade.


The continued privatization of Britain’s prisons – combined with cuts – is a sure fire recipe for disaster.  As such, this is a story that is likely to run and run.