Date: Mon, 26 May 97 16:00:21 CDT
From: rich@pencil (Rich Winkel)
Subject: Prison Privatisation Report Int'l - May 97
/** justice.usa: 202.0 **/
** Topic: Prison Privatisation Report Int'l - May 97 (25K) **
** Written 6:29 AM May 25, 1997 by mphillips in cdp:justice.usa **
From: Margaret B. Phillips <>
Subject: Prison Privatisation Report Int'l - May 97 (25K)

/* Written 8:45 PM May 23, 1997 by in igc:justice.prison */
/* ---------- Prison Privatisation Report Int'l - ---------- */
From: Prison Activist List <>
Subject: Prison Privatisation Report Int'l - May 97 (25K)
Original Date: Thu, 22 May 1997 15:59:10 -0700 (PDT)

Prison Privatisation Report International
Prison Reform Trust (UK)
Tel: ++44 171 251 5070
Fax: ++44 171 251 5076

Business as usual under New Labour?

Prison Privatisation Report Int'l, No. 10, May 1997

It looks as if the election of a Labour government on 1 May 1997 has not threatened the future development of private prisons in the UK. In fact, the government will encourage the use of private capital for public sector projects using the Private Finance Initiative (PFI).

Geoffrey Robinson, the government's paymaster general has said that the PFI is the only way that new projects in any part of the public sector will be funded. He regards the finance, design, build and manage model as most efficient—even for prisons—as split responsibility adds to complications and a division of accountability.

Meanwhile, Jack Straw, the new home secretary, has confirmed that all existing prison contracts—whether to privately manage or to finance, design, build and run—will be honoured. But within a week of coming to power his pre-election claim that we shall certainly make no new ones [contracts] and, within the existing budget, shall take back into the public service privatised prisons as soon as contractually possible has changed. Speaking on BBC radio on 8 May he said: ...if there are contracts in the pipeline and the only way of getting the [new prison] accommodation in place very quickly is by signing those contracts, then I will sign those contracts.

What constitutes in the pipeline is a moot point. The Prison Service has applied for planning permission for three new prisons to be built and is investigating sites for two others. If what the paymaster general says is true, then at the very least, all of these will be privately financed, designed and built. But before the tendering process for these projects begins there is plenty of time for a public debate about whether the new prisons have to be privately managed as well.

At this stage, whether Mr Straw intends to initiate such a debate and stand by his original pledges remains unclear. According to a Prison Service spokesperson, the home secretary will expand on what he said when he feels it appropriate and is ready to do so.

Cleaning up?

Wackenhut has been negotiating with the Prison Service to take over the industrial functions of HM Prison Coldingley in Surrey on a profit sharing basis. Coldingley is a training prison with an industrial bias and provides prisoners with work in sign making, engineering and laundries. A contract drawn up before the general election is awaiting consideration by ministers. Coldingley's industries generate revenues of around z1.8m, which represents some five per cent of the earnings of all prisons. The workshops make all the signs used by the Prison Service. Its laundry has recently won a number of lucrative contracts to provide services to National Health Service hospitals. Its ability to compete with both public sector staff and private companies for such work is partly based upon its lower wage costs.

Coldingley's governor believes that more commercial marketing expertise and new capital are needed in order for the prison's industries to expand and compete. But public money is unavailable. Wackenhut would bring marketing skills and capital investment but only if it could take on existing Prison Service staff Trade unions are objecting to the transfer of some 40 staff.

Lean staffing at Wolds

Wolds is run by Group 4 and was the first prison in England to be privately managed. It opened in 1992 as a remand centre for 320 prisoners. In 1995 it became a local and training prison for 335 and in July 1996 the capacity was increased again, to 360. Group 4's contract has been renewed for a further five years commencing April 1997.

In April, the prison's Board of Visitors published its annual report for the year to 31 December 1996. Education was described as a major positive factor and staff continued to maintain high standards. There had been less adjudications and complaints than in 1995.

But the Board also had a number of concerns. The increasing population of the prison has brought more assaults on staff and prisoners with prisoners having to double up in single cells.

The shortage of work for prisoners continues to be a problem with few realistic opportunities for significant expansion. It is unlikely that more than a quarter of the prisoners could be employed for a significant part of their time and, within the accommodation available, it is not possible to provide suitable education courses for the other three-quarters.

The Board was also worried about the pressures on an already lean staff' to cover all duties, both inside and outside the prison, undertake training and cover for sickness and leave. Despite assurances from the prison's director, the Board were disappointed at the company's proposals to downgrade the number of supervisors by more than 50 per cent and not to provide additional custody officers at a time when prisoner numbers may increase by up to 35 per cent of the original capacity.

The Board of Visitors HMP Wolds, Annual Report to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, year ending 31 December 1996. Available from: Mr F Henry, HMP Wolds, Everthorpe, North Humberside, HU15 2JZ England

Private overcrowding

One of the originally stated aims of privatising prisons was to ease overcrowding in Britain's prison system. But as the prison population for England and Wales passes a record 60,000, three of the four privately managed prisons are being overcrowded to help cope with the increase in numbers. Prison Service figures for March 1997 reveal that Doncaster held 1,017 prisoners compared with its operational capacity of 771 (132 per cent); Blakenhurst was operating at 115 per cent of capacity; and Wolds at 111 per cent.