Prisons Are Not For Profit

The POA is a professional independent trade union which represents 36,500 members throughout the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. The majority of the POA’s membership, work throughout England and Wales in public sector prisons and secure hospitals. We currently have approximately 1,000 members working for the private sector companies within prisons and immigration detention centers under contracts ranging from 5 to 25 years.

The POA has been opposed to the Conservative policy of privatisation, a policy which aimed to remove the responsibility of the state for prisons, secure institutions and public services.

‘The Wolds’ Prison opened in 1992 under the Conservative Government despite the opposition of the POA. Unfortunately, the privatisation policy of prisons continued between 1997 and 2010 under New Labour who had previously agreed with the POA and opposed the policy whilst in opposition. They had claimed that this was one area where a “free market should not exist” and furthermore, Jack Straw, who had been Home Secretary and later the Justice Secretary described the use of the private sector to run our prisons as “morally repugnant”. The POA agreed with those sentiments 19 years ago and has consistently voiced its opposition the use of the private sector to profit from the incarceration of individuals in the UK. 

The privatisation of prisons as a concept was exported by the United States of America and successive British Governments have increased the use of the private sector, which now make up over 10% of the England and Wales prison estate. Although, the ratio of privately operated prisons in Scotland is higher at around 16% due to Kilmarnock and Addiewell the POA welcomed the announcement in 2007 from the Scottish National Party to change policy on privatisation from the previous administration. The Scottish National Party decided that new prisons would be operated by the public sector and not as planned by private companies for profit. At the time Mr. Kenny MacAskill, Scotland’s Justice Secretary, said prisons "are for public safety, not private profit, so we are drawing a line in the sand"

The Ministry of Justice announced in April 2009 that the Labour Government intended to increase the number of privately managed prisons through a programme of competition. It was also proposed to exclude the public sector from bidding for prisons deemed to be performing badly and/ or which appeared to be costly. The POA strongly opposed this decision and as a result the Public Sector Prison Service was allowed to bid for these prisons.  Three publicly operated prisons, Buckley Hall, Birmingham and Wellingborough were identified without scrutiny from Parliament or public debate and these could end up in the private sector by 2011.

Following the General Election the Secretary of State for Justice Ken Clarke put on hold plans for any new privately operated PFI prisons under what had become known as mini titans.

The POA continues to campaign to ensure the public sector Prison Service remains value for money for the British tax payer and continues to perform as one of the most respected corrections service in the world. We maintain or long standing policy,   that Government should not abdicate its responsibility for the removal of freedom from its citizens.

The general public has a right to expect their money to be spent in a way that delivers value for money not profits for private companies. The POA will continue with our “Prisons Are Not For Profit” campaign despite the feelings expresses by political parties of all colours at the announcement of the privatisation of HMP Birmingham.


The POA is not ignorant to the economic climate or the financial difficulties the country faces following the recession of 2009/10. We all know that in such times tax payers are entitled to expect public services to be run even more efficiently, but we also know that they must be run safely and in accordance with best practice. All too often the privatisation of public services is seen as a cost saving measure when the reality it is more expensive to the tax payer. We stand ready to assist this or any other Government to achieve its aims through consultation and constructive negotiation.

The POA do not believe that either the public or Members of Parliament have been properly consulted or fully informed as to why or how it is in the interest of this country to proceed down the road of privatising public services particularly within the Criminal Justice System to increase the profits of private company shareholders.


Further research commissioned by the POA was recently sent to all members of the House of Commons and to members of the House of Lords highlighting our view on the true costs and delivery of custodial service in private sector. This Report has been roundly welcomed by all those who have taken time to absorb the complex ways that the real workings of the finances surrounding private sector prisons are concerned.

In 2010 the Howard League for Penal reform commissioned a study by a number of influential experts such as Cherie Booth QC, Baroness Corston and Professor Andrew Coyle into the running of our prisons.

The report confirmed much of what the POA and others have been outlining to Governments for more than a decade. It called for a reduction in the prison population, an end to overcrowding, the replacement of short prison sentences with community based responses. (Although the evidence on which is more effective remains unconvincing either way at present.) It also called for the dismantling of the bureaucratic and costly National Offender Management Service agency and it emphasised that the work of prisons should be focused on rehabilitation not simply containment.

It is worth noting that the original report by the Howard League called English Prisons Today, was published in 1922 and was hugely influential, not just among the political classes but in influencing public attitudes to crime and punishment. To mirror the impact of the original report would be difficult but the opportunity to stimulate debate on the principles of our penal system has now arisen and must not be missed.

In 2005, following a proposal from the POA the then Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, halted a proposed Market Test of the three prisons on the Isle of Sheppey in favour of a Performance Improvement Planning process. That process delivered value for money and improved service across the three establishments. The process costs considerably less than any programme of Market Testing and achieves the same aims.

The POA seeks a return to Performance Improvement Planning and or Performance Testing; both have a proven track record of delivering efficient and cost effective prisons and produced measurable improvements. The POA also calls on the coalition government to abolish Market Testing/ Competition Dialogue.

Further research commissioned by the POA was recently sent to all members of the House of Commons and to members of the House of lords lighting the costs and delivery of custodial service in

The Future                                                                                                

All members of Parliament need to understand and question the coalition government proposals to continue with the privatisation of all public services especially prisons.
To date no Government has answered in detail the benefits that Privatisation brings to our prison system.

The claim of “Innovation” has never been substantiated and was questioned by the former Chief Executive of NOMS Phil Wheatley, whilst holding the post of Director General of the Prison Service. He said “that private prison operators have brought little innovation to the management of custody and that the gains such as they are have come from using fewer staff, paying lower wages and providing less employment protection for staff.” He also pointed out that the process placed a huge cost burden on both those who bid and those who have to assess those bids.

Our campaign “Prisons Are Not For Profit” is intended to highlight and demonstrate that the professional men and women who work in the public sector deserve better than threats, intimidation and an uncertain future. POA members do not deserve this disgraceful treatment.

The statistics demonstrate that reduction in staffing results in more assaults, more self-harm, and suicides and less security in prisons. It is well known that private prisons are operated with fewer staff to ensure shareholders profits are maximised.

If the programme of privatisation is allowed to go unchecked the security of our Criminal Justice System will collapse. The public will be at risk and the revolving door policy of recruitment will only serve to turn private prisons into warehouses.

Why should our members and their families continue to face an uncertain future when there is little or no demonstrative evidence that the continuation of this ill-advised programme will deliver either real savings or genuine efficiencies?

The POA will continue to highlight the fact that Privatisation and Market Testing is not the answer for any of the perceived failing of any part of the Criminal Justice System and is an unnecessary imposition on the dedicated individuals who have met all of their year on year performance targets.

We will be seeking a Parliamentary debate on Market Testing and contend that the existing evidence, if tested, will not match this Governments aims and objectives or support their claims.


The POA campaign “Prisons Are Not For Profit” will be vigorously promoted throughout 2011. Please join the campaign and prevent the profiteers from distorting our Criminal Justice System.

If you would like to read the POA’s excellent report on the private prisons and engage with the POA to stop the Coalition Government from continuing with its privatisaton of our Criminal Justice System please click here.

We must ensure that we have a Justice System that we can all be proud of and that is fit for purpose.


Read the POA's briefing paper on "The Private Finance Initiative and the hidden cost of Prison Privatisation"


pdf, 2.9M, 19/07/11, 2395 downloads

Visit for more information.

P J McParlin National Chairman   Brian Caton
P J McParlin
National Chairman
  Steve Gillan
General Secretary

Refreshed June 2011