If you watched ‘Poldark’ recently you would have seen a good example of just how bad prisons can get when the state stops caring for the welfare of its prisoners.
And you will have seen how petty the crimes can be when a government’s greed for the rich and powerful starts to increase the poverty and hunger of our poor hard working people - when characters like Jim Carter can die in jail after being caught poaching to feed their starving families.
Did you know that we have 14 privately managed prisons in our country - by companies such as G4S and Sodexo Justice Services and Serco?
And it’s very likely the government will continue to privatise our prison service in this current economic climate - to `improve quality, innovation and cost’.
Our state prisons have made so much progress in getting the balance right between punishment and rehabilitation in recent years - thus breaking the cycle and preventing re-offence. This has been achieved through various interesting initiatives - but government funding is drying up for these rehabilitation programmes.
Take for example, the prisoner run restaurant called ‘The Clink’ which hit the national news recently after being voted the best gourmet restaurant in Cardiff by Trip Advisor. (Pictured above)
The standard of the food and the waiter service has been described as `top class` Michelin star quality. Meals are expensive and served to civilians in a plush restaurant within the prison. Many who have been there say it was their ‘best meal ever’.
The prisoners working in The Clink are gaining new skills and discovering something positive and rewarding to do with their lives.
But government cutbacks and privatisation could end similar progressive programmes.
Problems are increasing within our prisons e.g. overcrowding, an ageing population due to longer sentences, lack of social care, various health issues and prisoners are claiming that the system is becoming less fair and that they are not being rehabilitated properly.
Many prisoners have drug, alcohol or mental health problems and when they are released they find it difficult to integrate into society mainly due to prejudiced attitudes. It’s difficult for them to get jobs and many become homeless, return to crime to survive and end up back in jail.
Prisoners currently work regular hours and receive payments/rewards for good work to encourage the work ethic and social integration. It enables them to generate an income for the prison and it saves tax payers money. Educational, vocational opportunities and skills are offered to help reform prisoners’ general character.
So then, what are the pros and cons of private prisons? Well there seems to be no state responsibility and accountability. The essential profit making incentive of private companies could lead to inappropriate, unethical and dangerous practices, it could encourage neglect of difficult, vulnerable and more costly prisoners; these institutions could be run at a dangerously low cost to maximise profits; they might fail to train and manage the workforce appropriately, or use inexperienced or insufficient staff.
Contracts with private companies for prison management are subject to commercial confidentiality and this lack of transparency raises many concerns which could ultimately reflect badly on our government.
As assessment of privately managed prisons found that half of them delivered ‘exceptional performance’ and half of them ‘met the majority of their targets’. Prisoners had slightly longer time out of their cells (half an hour a day), more flexible visiting hours, fewer escapes, slightly higher level of purposeful activity, higher number of assaults (2-3 times higher), lower re-offending rate, but overall there were cost savings and improved value for money. And money speaks with our government.
While attracting business the private prison sector embraces all the same objectives as the state prisons. Offering education centres, workshops, anger management, cognitive therapy, etc and tackles the problems of smoking, drug and alcohol abuse.
However, in the long term, if all our prisons were privatised would this level of care continue or would profit become the main motive rather than prisoners’ welfare?
In March 2015 our government threatened the Prison Officer Association with legal action and a high court injunction for discussing industrial action on pay and 80% of their members had no pay rise - this is an indication of the state of things to come for Unions and people working in the public sector.
The Prison Officer Association is now demanding urgent action following the worst security and safety results in a decade. Due to budget cuts and staff shortages there has been a sharp increase in prison violence, homicides, suicides and the use of legal highs is out of control. And the rush towards non-custodial sentencing is also of concern, further crime by those being monitored has increased by 28% - basically it is not working.
Politicians are not listening, they are only interested in cost cutting and they do not appear to care about the safety of the public, prison staff or prisoners.
So the Prison Service is reaching crisis point as the same time as the NHS - a convenient time to privatise to get rid of the problem.