Private firms ‘better at running prisons’

Private firms are better at running prisons than the public sector and all jails should be subject to open competition, an independent think tank has claimed.

The Government would be wrong to limit the role of private companies within prisons to small contracts such as maintenance and catering, the right-leaning group Reform said.

Some 10 out of 12 privately-managed prisons have lower re-offending rates among offenders serving 12 months or more than comparable public sector prisons, Reform found.

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Meanwhile, the group also called for the end to national pay bargaining for prison officers with pay and conditions to be set locally by governors.

Reform researcher Will Tanner, who penned the report ‘The case for private prisons’, said: “Twenty years of private prisons have created an effective market which is ready to grow. Evidence shows that a greater role for the private sector will advance the ‘rehabilitation revolution’ which Ministers want to deliver.”

Private firms have been managing prisons since 1992, but in November last year Justice Secretary Chris Grayling signalled a move away from wholesale privatisation as he decided four prisons, including G4S-run HMP Wolds, should be run by the public sector.

Two contracts to run five prisons – Acklington and Castington, which have since formed Northumberland prison, and three in South Yorkshire – will proceed to the next stage of the competition with an announcement expected next spring.

Mr Grayling said private firms will be brought in to all public prisons to run maintenance, resettlement and catering to save as much as £450m over six years.

Policy groups, including Reform, said the decision amounted to the end of competition for prison management between the public and private sector, although Mr Grayling insisted it did not rule out further prison-by-prison competitions in the future.

Looking at Ministry of Justice (MoJ) data, Reform said this decision was not supported by analysis of prison effectiveness.

Some seven out of 10 privately managed prisons have lower re-offending rates among offenders serving fewer than 12 months, compared to comparable public sector prisons.

Furthermore, Reform said private prisons outperform their public counterparts in four of the performance measures used by the MoJ