Facts, fears and fables…part 5

Michael Spurr, announced last year that there will be no more public bidding on contracts to build new prisons. Therefore, with an extensive building programme planned, any new prison will be maintained and managed by the private sector. As well as any existing public prison, that may be put out to tender. It has always struck me how a private company can legally lock people up and detain them. Surely, it’s for our government to fulfil that role.

So! What is the difference between a government run prison and the private sector? I’m going to take a different look. One that makes for an uncomfortable conclusion.

Public prisons are, of course, run by the government. As well as providing the residents, they provide everything else too: the grounds, the building, staff and so on. They are also there to oversee the prison and prisoners (hmm!). However, most public prisons, these days, outsource a lot of the services such as: cleaning services, food provision and building maintenance.

In a private prison, rather than having to provide everything, the government only need to provide the residents, and one would like to think, to continue to oversee the prison! This removes a lot of the burden from the government.

A public prison is run as non-profit, with it’s purpose being to hold individuals for a set period of time, and hopefully send them back into society with the necessary skills and knowledge to successfully disengage from the criminal justice system. However, the private prison company is like any other business. It exists to make money. In an environment where the cost of a toilet roll can affect the bottom line, but, one in which care and compassion are paramount, one is left to reassess the proverb “crime doesn’t pay.”

The private company running the prison are given a certain amount of money which can be paid in a variety of ways: they can base it on an annual or monthly amount, the size of the prison or more commonly, the number of prisoners each prison holds. Let’s say it costs the private company £200 per day, per prisoner, for everything, to run the prison. All-inclusive, for those who lean towards the holiday camp view. The private prison comes in and offers to run the prison for £250 per day, per prisoner, giving them a gross-profit margin of £50 per day, per prisoner. If it is costing the government more than £250 then it makes financial, although not moral, sense for the government to award the contract.

Now! This is the point it starts to get alarming. As with any company, especially those on the Stockmarket, the more money you save: the more you increase the bottom line, the more people will invest in you, the more prisons you will own, the larger the company will grow. And repeat. To grow, most business rely on awareness and exposure to create sales, unlike most businesses, prison doesn’t need that. But! The company running the prison does need to grow, and it also needs to make a profit. In order to achieve those aims a company needs capital to invest. If the prison holds a thousand prisoners and the company make a £50 ‘mark-up’ on each prisoner, that gives them £50,000 a day profit once all the costs have been factored in. An extremely attractive business model for all those involved, or is it?

In order to grow and continue to be profitable and, therefore, attractive to investors, private prisons need one thing above all else, a constant and continuous stream of prisoners.

A circus wouldn’t stay in business long with no audience in the big top!!

Let’s go back to the government for a moment. Their role in the private game, other than to, again hopefully, remain overseeing the prison, is to provide the residents. The governments other messages they say they are committed to, are: ‘To cut crime and to reduce offending and reoffending’.

My final question, and one I will leave for you to answer is this: Is prison there to hold and reform individuals, or to make a profit?

If you are leaning towards the latter, then surely the goal is to have, and keep, a higher prison population. Incredibly, citizens of America are perplexed, as are we, at the growing number of innocent people in prison.

Maybe, “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime” should now read, “We don’t care who committed the crime, we only care in the bottom line.”




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