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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The History of Cash for Prisoners and Commercial Lobbying: A National Scandal

The History of Cash for Prisoners and Commercial Lobbying: A National Scandal

by John Hirst

According to Policy Transfer and Criminal Justice by Jones and Newburn: “the policy of contracting out of prisons and remand centres to commercial providers was first mooted in 1984 by the free-market think tank, the Adam Smith Institute (ASI)”.
Largely falling on deaf ears, the ASI published a second report in 1987, Privatizing Prisons: The Moral Case, written by Professor Charles H Logan. Between the two reports in 1986, the Home Affairs Select Committee (HAC), chaired by the late Conservative MP, Sir Edward Gardner, started an inquiry into the state of prisons in England and Wales. Although the privatisation of prisons was not within the remit of the inquiry, members of the HAC visited American prisons, concentrating on those private prisons operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Due to the divisions between Labour and the Tories on this issue, the topic was not covered in the main report, but was, instead, the subject of a separate report, which recommended privatising prisons.

In support of Sir Edward Gardner on this matter was the senior Tory member, Sir John Wheeler. Another Tory, the junior Home Office minister Lord Windlesham, began to lobby the Prime Minister. The Home Office minister, Lord Caithness, also visited America and upon his return advocated privatisation of prisons. John Mowlem Ltd, a large donor to the Tory party, and Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd, a large donor to the Tory party, formed a consortium with the US based CCA. Following this, the government published its Green Paper, Private Sector Involvement in the Remand System, in July 1988 and commercial lobbying subsequently reached fever pitch. No surprises then that Contract Prisons Ltd was formed with the former HAC chairman Sir Edward Gardner as chief executive. Looking back, it is difficult to see any legitimate justification for private involvement given that by the late 1980s the remand population had fallen quite significantly.

The Home Office was against the idea of privatisation of prisons and was against a provision allowing for privatisation of remand prisons in the Criminal Justice Bill, however, those with vested interests continued to lobby for it and when Margaret Thatcher put her weight behind it, the Home Office caved in. A clause was added which permitted contracting out for newly constructed remand facilities. But still those with a vested interest were not satisfied. At the committee stage, Tory backbenchers and Lord Windlesham lobbied for and succeeded with an amendment which granted the power to contract out for convicted prisoners and existing prisons and remand centres. Money talks!

According to a 1989 article in The Guardian, the "private prison network" came together on September 15, 1988, at a dinner for more than 150 people, given by the conservative Carlton Club's political committee. "All the various players were there," the article by D. Rose read: "representatives of the ASI and other right wing policy units, civil servants, John Wheeler and his colleagues, architects and people from the consortia ... a mood of satisfied expectation was beginning to emerge".

As a recent Guardian article reported: 'last week two judges in Pennsylvania were convicted of jailing some 2,000 children in exchange for bribes from private prison companies… The judges were paid $2.6m by companies belonging to the Mid-Atlantic Youth Services Corp for helping to fill its jails. This is what happens when public services are run for profit'.

In Sweden, prisons are built to accommodate 250 inmates, whereas the private sector in the UK lobbied for 3 Titan Prisons to be built each to accommodate 2,500 prisoners. Even though the Titan Prisons plan has been scrapped in favour of 5 x 1,500 place prisons, that’s still 7,500 places at £40,000 per year per inmate; that’s £60 million per year per prison of taxpayers’ money which will go into the privateers’ pockets (including private security companies on 25-year contracts and open by 2013). It is one thing to jail people if it is necessary, and quite another to jail people for profit. Whatever the legal position, there is no moral case for prison privatisation.

John Hirst blogs as Jailhouselawyer and is the Media, Legal and Political adviser to the Association of Prisoners. He spent 35 years in prison and is currently on life licence out in the community.

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