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News | 05.10.2011

Conservative Fringe - Who Should Profit From the Penal System

The Government supported opening up the penal system to greater private sector involvement, including introducing a penal system that “paid by results”, Justice Secretary Ken Clarke said today.

A “profit motive” was “the best way” of ensuring outcomes, he said.

Mr Clarke was speaking at a fringe event titled “Who Should Profit From the Penal System” at Conservative Party Conference. The fringe was hosted by the New Statesman and the Prison Officers Association.

Mr Clarke was joined on the panel by Harry Fletcher, Assistant General Secretary of Napo, the Trade Union and Professional Association for Family Court and Probation Staff, Sophie Elmhirst, Assistant Editor of the New Statesman, PJ MacParlin, Chairman of POA, th

Professional Trades Union for Prison, Correctional and Secure Psychiatric Workers, and Richard Morris, Head of UK Care and Justice at G4S, the security firm.

Mr Clarke said that the desired effect of the penal system was to reduce reoffending and should “reform prisoners who were capable of reform”.

Reoffending rates should be used as a measure of the effectiveness of the penal system, he argued.

Mr Clarke added that there was a general acceptance from those working in the criminal justice system that the overall aim should be to reduced reoffending.

Mr Clarke said debating between private and public sector delivery was immaterial.

The public’s concern, he said, that when people’s liberty was removed, this was properly sanctioned by the State and had the full authority of the appropriate institutions, he said.

Mr Clarke argued the provider should be whoever could make the “best provision” for the “best value for money”.

The tendering process had helped to ensure value for money and innovation that would not have occurred if a single entity had maintained a monopoly on the provision of penal services.

He said that he wants to introduce “payment by results”, suggesting that “working wings”, where every prisoner is gainfully employed, and “drug free wings”, where every prisoner is clean of addiction, were a good way measuring results.

Mr Clarke said that a “payments by results” contract could help prevent reoffending providing that there was continuity from prison to rehabilitation into society.

This was something that the Government was currently testing on a trial basis with short term prisoners, he explained.

On competition, Mr Clarke said that opening up the penal system had allowed contractual remedies for non-performance, providing that contracts are drawn up properly.

Ineffectual contracts would not be effective at regulating the provision of services, he stressed.

Mr Clarke said that he was concentrated on ensuring that the Justice Department “drives the right bargain” to ensure that the private sector was providing value for money.

Addressing the central question posed by the fringe meeting, Mr MacParlin said that society should profit from the penal system. He said that the POA believed that “citizens of the state should be incarcerated by the state”.

Mr MacParlin said that “shareholders” should not profit from crime.

However, he accepted the “political reality” that organisations such as the POA must work with private security organisations such as G4S and they were willing to embrace this challenge.

The “Rehabilitation Revolution”, the policy phrase coined by Mr Clarke, remained a “soundbite” and was not yet reality, he said.

“Private good, public bad” was also not the reality, he said. Private institutions had also failed to rehabilitate prisoners.

He criticised Mr Clarke for “not having the first idea” about how the rehabilitation of prisoners could be measured.

He said that prisons were already very close to capacity and warned of the consequences of releasing prisoners early.

The next speaker, Mr Fletcher said that “victims and communities” should benefit from the criminal justice system.

The introduction of the private sector into the penal system had so far “been a disaster”, he said.

He was particularly critical of the previous Labour Government for having made several mistakes.

These mistakes included letting out bail beds to inexperienced providers, and allowing maintanance providers to be located some distance from the facilities, thus increasing costs.

Returning to the theme of victims, Mr Fletcher said that some victims were treated in a “terrible way”, particularly in the area of stalking, where he criticised the sanctions for this crime as inadequate.

He noted that stalking could lead to further crimes such as rape and murder and that only 2% of stalking offenders received a custodial sentence.

Mr Morris said that he had been very impressed with the professionalism of the POA despite their principled opposition to private sector involvement in the penal system.

From Mr Morris’ point of view, the debate of public sector provision versus private sector provision was irrelevant as long as the outcome offered value for money.

The benefit of competition was important, he argued, as this led to greater productivity and value for money.

Competitive tendering had led to savings of between 10% and 15 %, regardless of whether the public sector or the private sector had ultimately been awarded the contract.

Competition was the only way of guaranteeing value to the tax- payer, he said. He welcomed the Government’s decision to further open up competition in the penal system.

He went on to add that competition had led to better performance in terms of prisoners’ regimes.

Extolling the virtues of private sector involvement in the penal system, he said that in G4S-run prisons, some prisoners now did a 40-hour working week and that new prisons had been delivered on time and on budget.