Private prisons are more efficient and better at managing re-offending than public prisons, and jails should be put on the open market by the government, a radical new report has suggested.
Right-wing think tank Reform called for the Government to abolish limitations on private companies, but the Labour party and trade unions dismissed the report, with one union saying an entirely privatised system would cause "utter chaos."
Private companies had been able to manage entire prisons since 1992 but policy changed at the end of 2012, and from now the role of private companies will be limited to relatively small contracts including for rehabilitation services and facilities management.
Shadow Justice Minister Jenny Chapman told HuffPost UK: "While helpful in drawing some of the evidence together, the report's conclusion glosses over the fact that private sector prisons are less crowded, generally purpose built and aren't responsible for the highest risk offenders.
"They do some good work, but that's no more than we should expect."
The reported rated private prisons using official Ministry of justice figures.
- 10 out of 12 privately managed prisons have lower re-offending rates among offenders serving 12 months or more than comparable public sector prisons
- 7 out of 10 privately managed prisons have lower re-offending rates among offenders serving fewer than 12 months, compared to comparable public sector prisons.
- All 12 private prisons are more cost-effective.
- BUT only 5 out of 12 prisons were better at providing public protection than public sector prisons.
Larry O'Callaghan, union representative for the National Offender Management Service, said this part was crucial. "Public protection is how well prisons protect officers and managers from attackers by prisoners, or prisoner-on-prisoner attacks.
"We believe there is a great deal of underreporting of these attacks at private prisons, it is in their interests to keep them quiet."
The report also recommends that government should devolve power to set pay and conditions and manage staffing arrangements to prison governors.
Will Tanner, the report author, said: “Twenty years of private prisons have created an effective market which is ready to grow.
"Evidence shows that a greater role for the private sector will advance the ‘rehabilitation revolution’ which Ministers want to deliver.
"Private contractors outperform comparable public sector prisons on both cost and quality, delivering better value for money for the taxpayer."
O'Callaghan said it was unsurprising that private prisons offered better value. "They pay their staff up to 40% less, and so that is nothing new that they cost less."
Harding continued: "The vast majority of contracted prisons have lower reoffending rates than similar public sector prisons for both long and short term prisoners, a key Government objective."
Chapman added that a lack of haring of best practice, transparency or accountability in the prison system was something that urgently needed to be addressed: " "Reoffending rates are not impressive in either sector and they both need to do much better.
"I would like to know far more about what interventions work to reduce reoffending rather than get stuck in a debate about who should be delivering them."
BLOG: The Case for Private Prisons - Reform's Cathy Corrie
In November, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling ordered four prisons, including G4S-run HMP Wolds, should be run by the public sector.
But Grayling also pledged private firms will be brought in to all public prisons to run maintenance, resettlement and catering to save up to £450 million over six years.
Justice Minister Jeremy Wright said in a statement: "Reoffending rates across the entire prison estate are too high and we are pressing ahead with major reforms to tackle this unacceptable problem.
"And let's be clear - there has been no U-turn on the use of prison competition.
"The cost of running our prisons is too high and must be reduced. The recent competition process identified a new approach for reducing costs and improving services aimed at reducing reoffending at a faster rate involving the private sector."