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Government finally admits G4S can't be trusted to run Birmingham prison

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Decision to return HMP Birmingham to public control proof that private profit and the criminal justice system don't go together

The Department of Justice has decided that G4S cannot be trusted to run Birmingham prison. If only they’d apply that logic elsewhere.

In a victory for the Prison Officers Association (POA), the trade union for prison officers, prison’s minister Rory Stewart has announced that HMP Birmingham will not be returned to the private sector.

Birmingham prison was taken into public ownership under an emergency measure last summer, shortly before the publication of a highly damning report on G4S’ stewardship.

The report cited violence, drugs and squalor as examples of G4S’ failure at the prison.

In a statement, Rory Stewart highlighted the improvements that Birmingham had made since the state stepped in.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) have agreed with G4S that “… the public sector is better placed to drive the long-term improvements required and the contract will end”.

Well quite.

As the POA said:

(this) is undoubtedly the correct decision for staff, prisoners and the tax payer. The obsession this Tory Government has to outsource and privatise public sector work must cease.

That the government has acknowledged that the public sector is best placed to deliver the long-term improvements required in HMP Birmingham is not a surprise.

And the penny is finally dropping elsewhere too.

Last month, commenting on the shambolic outsourcing of probation services, the chief inspector of probation Dame Glenys Stacey admitted that offender management was too crucial to hand to the private sector and that “public ownership was the safer option for core work” of this nature.

And now NHS England is consulting on a number of changes it feels need to be made to the pro-market and pro-competition reforms brought in by the coalition government through the notorious 2012 Health and Social Care Act.

In their consultation document, NHS England is clear that those changes have acted as an barrier to the delivering the integration and innovation we need to see if the NHS is to deliver the improvements set out in the new Long Term Plan.

As they put it, “ current procurement legislation can lead to protracted procurement processes and wasteful legal and administration costs in cases where there is a strong rationale for services to be provided by NHS organisations, for instance to secure integration with existing NHS services.”

The market experiment in our public services is failing.

Nowhere more so than in our criminal justice system. Outsourcing and privatisation delivers increased risks and suffering for staff and inmates.

And at the end of the day, the public sector must always step in to take over when the private sector fails.

Again and again we see the same pattern play out whether its G4S in Birmingham, or Carillion across the public sector, or Interserve in probation.

We have also seen significant concerns raised about AMEY’s ability to provide a safe service in the North West.

But there is a bigger principle at stake here.

Deprivation of liberty by the state is a matter for the state and not for private profit. The market in justice hasn’t just failed, it should never have been tried.

It’s time to bring all prisons back into public ownership.