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Private prisons are more violent, so why does the MoJ want more of them?

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A new report highlights how private companies are failing to provide prisons that are safe and secure.

New analysis published in The Guardian has proved that private prisons are more violent than publicly-funded prisons. This confirms what union members in the justice system have been saying for years. Profiting from the justice system isn’t just immoral, it’s dangerous.

In the year to September 2018, there were over 150 more assaults per 1000 prisoners in private prisons than in public ones.

Let’s be clear: correlation doesn’t prove causality. Private prison operators might argue that they deal with difficult prison populations. For instance, they do not operate any open prisons and they only operate all-male prisons, so more violence is to be expected.

This is true. But it is also true that private operators do not operate any category A, high security prisons, or any young offenders’ institutes, both of which are disproportionately violent. So, this is not simply a cohort effect.

Private prisons are less safe

Evidence indicates that pay is lower in private prisons, their staff are less experienced and there is higher turnover. In fact, concerns about this date back to 2003 when the National Audit Office reported that private prisons were less safe than public ones.

Despite this, the MoJ is planning to build two more private prisons: HMP Wellingborough and HMP Glen Parva. Work on HMP Wellingborough will start next month. It will hold 1700 inmates when completed.

Safety in our prisons has been a cause of concern for years. The latest government figures show that self-harm, assaults on other prisoners and staff and deaths all increased compared to the previous year. Over the past decade the number of deaths per 1000 prisoners has almost doubled.

Today’s figures show that private prisons are key drivers of the rise in violence in the prison estate. Despite this, the MoJ is still planning on privatising more prisons, putting both inmates and staff at risk.

Lessons from the probation service

There is plenty of evidence of the risks of privatising the justice system if the MoJ wanted to look. Just take probation.

Ever since probation was partially privatised in 2014, positive outcomes for offenders have declined while costs for the taxpayer have rocketed. Last year, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation concluded that the privatised model was “irredeemably flawed”. In February, we discovered that 200 offenders had been charged with murder while being monitored by private Community Rehabilitation Companies introduced after 2014 to handle “low to medium risk” cases.

We need a properly funded prison system

Just last month, the MoJ themselves decided that the private sector could not be trusted to continue to run one of the country’s most violent prisons: HMP Birmingham, run by G4S. Last year a damning report into the prison cited drugs, squalor and violence among the company’s failings. In April, Prisons Minister Rory Steward said: “the public sector is better placed to drive the long-term improvements required and the contract will end”.

Prisons need better funding, and investment in experienced staff. This is true on both sides of the prison estate and across the justice system. What the justice system does not need, is more privatisation. It’s time the MoJ recognised that.