The case for private prisons

Document type
Tanner, Will
Date of publication
1 February 2013
Reform ideas; no. 2
Criminal Justice Services, Offenders
Social welfare
Material type

Download (389KB )

The Government made two major announcements on prisons at the end of 2012: the effective abolition of whole prison contracting to private companies and the decision not to introduce local pay in the prison system. Instead the Government will pursue a “new approach” limiting competition to rehabilitation and ancillary services. It will introduce an “efficiency benchmark” for public sector prisons. It will maintain national pay scales in prisons. The evidence shows that the Government’s new approach is mistaken. The Ministry of Justice rates prison performance under four headings (“domains”). New Reform analysis of this data shows superior performance by the private sector against comparable public sector prisons. Reform has also conducted new research into reoffending rates by prison, which also show superior private sector performance.

Existing research has shown that flexible terms and condition are one of the key reasons why private operators have been able to deliver better performance. Flexible working conditions have resulted in better staff-prisoner relationships, more positive prison environments, higher staff satisfaction and a more diverse workforce. Existing research has also made clear that the threat of competition has itself been a spur for innovation in public sector prisons.

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