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Government abandons plans to outsource prisons

By Vivienne Russell | 9 November 2012

Three prisons set to be outsourced to the private sector are to remain in public hands and a fourth, the G4S-run Wolds, will be taken over by the state, it has emerged.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling yesterday outlined some major revisions to the government’s prison outsourcing strategy, which was set in train by his predecessor Ken Clarke in July last year.

Coldingley, Durham and Onley were among of group of nine publicly run prisons whose management was out to tender. But the Ministry of Justice said the competition process had failed to produce a ‘compelling package of reforms’ that would cut costs and improve the prison regimes at these institutions. ‘The competition for these prisons is not proceeding and they will remain in the public sector,’ the MoJ said.

A fourth prison, Wolds, which has been run by the private contractor G4S since it opened in 1992, will also revert to the public sector once the current management contract expires next July.

Competitions for the other prisons are to continue. The MoJ is seeking a private contractor to take on the management of Northumberland (an amalgamation of Castington and Acklington prisons) and the South Yorkshire group of Moorland, Hatfield and Lindholme prisons. Three of the seven original bidders, which included G4S, remain in the process: Serco, Sodexo and MTC/Amey.

Fresh ways of making savings had come to light during the competition process, the MoJ said. All public sector prisons will now be obliged to make additional efficiencies and the Prison Service will make collective savings by outsourcing ancillary services such as maintenance and resettlement services. It is expected that this will generate £450m in savings over the next six years.

Grayling said: ‘I have decided to take a new approach to how we compete prison services and reduce unit costs across the prison estate that will lead to better value for the taxpayer, linked to more effective services to reduce reoffending. This is a challenge the public sector must rise to.’

He added that future prison-by-prison competitions had not been ruled out.

Commenting on the move, the Howard League for Penal Reform said handing over the management of prisons to the private sector was a ‘mistake of Olympian proportions’.

Director Frances Crook said: ‘Something as important as taking away someone’s freedom should only be done by the state, answerable to taxpayers, rather than by international private security firms, answerable only to their shareholders.

‘Three of the country’s five most overcrowded prisons – Doncaster, Altcourse and Birmingham – are run by the private sector. Even more worryingly, at least 35 people have died in private prisons since January last year. Six of them took their own life.’

Crook added that it was ‘worrying’ that criteria for awarding prison contracts had not been made public. ‘I am writing to the chief executive of the National Offender Management Service to request the details of how the bidding process is being decided,’ she said.


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