Prisons and Probation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:58 pm on 14th May 2019.

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Photo of Richard Burgon Richard Burgon Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice 12:58 pm, 14th May 2019

My hon. Friend makes an important point very eloquently. As she says, splitting probation into two and part-privatising it has been a disaster. From the outset, the Labour party was among those warning the Government not to take that dangerous road.

If Conservative Members will not listen to the views expressed today on the Opposition Benches, I respectfully encourage them to take seriously the words of Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former Secretary of State under Margaret Thatcher. Just last month, he wrote in the Financial Times that

“contracting out prisons to the private sector has been a serious mistake.”

He also made a point about the incarceration of human beings for profit—which I wholeheartedly share—when he said:

“The physical deprivation of the citizen’s liberty should not be the responsibility of a private company or of its employees.”

Even if Conservative Members do not share those moral principles, the record of privatisation in leaving the public less safe and the taxpayer out of pocket should put an end to this failed experiment. That is why change is needed: privatisation has been proven not to work.

Nowhere has the experiment of justice privatisation been so thoroughly tested as in the United States of America. Members might be surprised to learn that we have a greater proportion of prisoners in private prisons than the United States federal Government prison system does. That is quite astounding. Concern over safety and value for money in private prisons was one of the reasons behind the Obama Administration’s 2016 decision to plan a gradual phase-out of private prisons by letting contracts expire. Sadly, that decision was overturned by Trump. In the memorandum announcing the plans to phase out private prisons, the US Department of Justice said that

“time has shown that they compare poorly to our own Bureau facilities. They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services…and resources;
they do not save substantially on costs;
and…they do not maintain the same level of safety and security. The rehabilitative services…such as educational programs and job training, have proved difficult to replicate and outsource”.