UK’s Dubious Privatization Experience

Though I rarely touch on international private prison news, two recent stories from our friends across the pond caught my attention recently.  The first is an article from The Guardian discussing the proposed privatization of nine prisons in England, which the author concludes would work out very well for any corporation that wins the contract but not so well for prisoners who end up housed in a private facility.  Research cited by the author has shown that private prisons present a much higher risk to the safety of prisoners, staff, and the general public.  Private prisons in the UK has seen some of the same problems as the industry experiences here in the US; “green” staff, with little training and a high rate of turnover, which results in higher levels of violence and decreased security.  Likewise, the industry falls victim to the profit motive, as private prison operators continually cut costs at the expense of prisoner rehabilitation and care.

England is facing a crisis of incarceration similar to, but on a much smaller scale than our own, driven by things like mandatory minimum sentences and 3-strikes laws, which has prompted lawmakers to seek ways to cut the prison population or at least make it more manageable.  Unfortunately, they seem to be taking a page out of our manual in dealing with the crisis, focusing more on increasing capacity by outsourcing services to private companies than on smart and efficient legislative and policy initiatives designed to reduce the prison population.

The second is an article that uncovers an “eye-watering scandal;” namely, that the competitive bidding process currently underway to operate 5 facilities is rigged in favor of the private companies.  Stipulations were introduced by the government late into the process that rendered bids from public entities non-competitive, and the private industry has basically been handed a cakewalk of a bidding process.  It’s a clear handout to the industry, and as the assistant secretary general of the probation union said, “Prison Privatisation is no longer based on efficiency, it’s now ideological.”