Last week the Tory justice secretary, Kenneth Clarke, announced his intentions to move away from the "prison works" policy, brought in by Michael Howard 18 years ago. Among the 'reforms' proposed in his 'Breaking the Cycle' green paper, which ditches many of the Tory and Lib Dem election campaign promises, are plans to break up the probation service 'monopoly' and introduce private payment-by-result contracts. The prison and probation services will be opened up to competition from June 2011, with private companies and voluntary sector organisations contracted to manage community service sentences. Other measures proposed include a 40-hour working week for inmates; 'harder tasks' in community punishments; and more use of curfews – all of which promise more profits for private contractors.
The ministry of justice will pilot at least six new rehabilitation programmes, delivered on a payment-by-results basis by private providers, who will be "paid to reduce reoffending." The first payment-by-results rehabilitation scheme, devised under Labour, was piloted at Peterborough prison in September this year, funded by £5m in social impact bonds from private investors. Other measures that had been introduced prior to the green paper include making some community sentences more punitive and visible. There has also been a 50% increase in the budget for prisons and offender management offenders in the last 10 years. The new reforms, thus, should not be seen in isolation, as the green paper rightly says:
“We will base our plans on the same insights that are driving reform across Government: increasing competition; decentralising control; enhancing transparency; strengthening accountability; and paying by results. We will draw on the skills of the private sector and civil society, as well as enabling public sector organisations to compete in new markets.”
As a chancellor in John Major's government, Ken Clarke championed the privatisation of British Rail in the mid-1990s. He has been dubbed as a 'serial privatiser' and has been 'itching' to privatise many public services, particularly Royal Mail.
Custody suites for rent
In other but related news, G4S Police Support Services, part of G4S Care and Justice Services, is finalising plans to build and operate up to 30 'custody suites', which it will then rent to small- to mid-sized police forces around the country. The company will provide all staff except for a uniformed custody sergeant.
The plan will allow police forces to lease a set number of standard pre-fabricated custody cells built and owned by G4S. The average 'custody suite' will have 30 cells but the scalable modular construction will enable the addition of more cells if required. The new facilities will be located out of town, unlike traditional police stations, or on the borders of other jurisdictions, so that costs can be shared. The company will also be responsible for the transportation of detainees to custody (a so-called 'street to suite' service).
The plans have already been approved by the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), and the first G4S custody suite is about to be launched soon. The UK Border Agency has also expressed an interest in renting G4S cells to use for detaining migrants and refugees.
The argument that G4S has been using to sell its plans is that they would save UK police forces up to £400 million a year in costs and allow police officers to go "back to the beat." A study carried out by the company on behalf of one police force claimed the shift would help the latter cut costs by £77m over the next four years. In light of the cuts, this is presented as the only 'solution'. In the words of John Shaw, the managing director of Police Support Services at G4S Care and Justice Services, the squeeze on law enforcement budgets means almost all police roles are "up for grabs."
G4S has been operating several custody facilities since 2003 in Lancashire, Staffordshire and South Wales under Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contracts, but the facilities have remained under the ownership of police. The company says the new approach is a "cheap and relatively risk-free alternative" to PFI contracts, which it criticises as "expensive" and "take a very long time to put together."
It is not difficult to see how this kind of profit-driven policies will only lead to more people being criminalised and held in custody, as the more 'customers' there are, the more money made. We have seen that with the privatisation of prisons and immigration detention centres over the last two decades, which has led to a large increase in the number of prisoners and immigration detainees. G4S estimates it could quadruple its revenues from policing activities within the next few years.
Private security companies are taking over more and more aspects of law enforcement, traditionally seen as a core function of the state. G4S has recently provided mobile custody cells and private custody officers at political demonstrations, and has begun supplying full teams of investigators on complex criminal cases, who are 'parachuted in' when needed. In the new custody suites, G4S staff will be responsible for searching, fingerprinting and photographing detainees, drug-testing and forensic sampling. G4S's main rival, Reliance Security Group, has also been considering building its own custody facilities and setting up teams of private investigators, mostly former police officers. This poses difficult accountability and public trust issues, so the PR and spin arms of government and security companies are expected to become more active as the shifts gain more visibility and enter the public debate.
G4S brags that it "pioneered the concept of contracting out the management of prisons to the private sector to bring additional value, expertise and ideas to HM Prison Service." In the UK, the company manages four prisons, three secure training centres and four immigration detention centres. With the coalition government's enthusiasm for extending the role of the private sector in law enforcement, G4S and other security giants, such as Reliance and Serco, are certainly set to expand. To achieve that, however, requires special relationships and communication channels to push policies through and secure contracts.
Indeed, a growing list of former police officers, prison governors and other public sector workers are being recruited by private security companies to utilise their expertise and contacts. G4S has just announced that the former head of the National Offender Management Service (Noms), Phil Wheatley, is to join its advisory board from next month.
Wheatley was the director-general of Noms until June and oversaw hundreds of thousands of offenders who passed through the prison and probation system each year. He also oversaw the tendering process and knows well what it takes for private bidders to succeed in securing contracts. In the words of David Banks, the managing director of G4S Care and Justice Services, Wheatley's "extensive experience in the prison service... will be of enormous benefit as we seek to develop our care and justice portfolio around the world."
Former civil servants are only prohibited from lobbying ministers and civil servants on behalf of private companies they join for 12 months from the date they stand down from their previous public service job.
In addition to advisors and employees “of enormous benefit”, various events are being organised to provide lobbying and networking opportunities for private security companies eager to utilise the cuts in public spending to push for privatisation. Under the title 'A new strategic partnership between the police and industry', a round table organised by CityForum and hosted by corporate solicitors firm Simmons & Simmons on 25th January 2011, will gather government officials, senior police officers and representatives of private security companies to "look at the contribution that intelligent and carefully crafted relationships between the police and industry can make to the solution of the problems facing the police service in the light of the government expenditure cuts." Key speakers will include Denis O’Connor, Chief Inspector of Constabulary; Hugh Orde, president of ACPO; Charles Clarke, former Home Secretary; David Omand, senior civil servant and academic; and unannounced contributors from the industry.
"A new strategic partnership with industry," the CityForum publicity material tells us, "is essential to realise the benefits that can be delivered by outsourcing functions to industry or collaborating with industry in other ways to deliver effective and economic policing." The main aim of the event, however, seems to be overcoming policy and legislative 'obstacles' to the privatisation process: "Once the collaborative ground has been mapped out, the problem of the way current legislation is framed remains a formidable obstacle to implementation unless complex procurement processes often lasting as long as two years can be modified."