Prisons, Policing & Privatisation

In the aftermath of the UK Riots, questions were asked over the planned cuts to the police service, with Boris Johnstone speaking against the party line asking that the planned cuts were rethought, while the Government insisted that there would be no backing down. Cuts to the police service tend not to raise the same kind of activist ire as cuts to education and health services, but there is a need for justice and security and until such time that an alternative is available, the state must be relied on to provide this.

The question is less about the amount of policing then the control over policing and the priorities it sets. In the city where nearly 100 police, a dog team and a helicopter was dispatched to evict students from a peaceful occupation and there is ongoing harassment of protest, political activity and political activists, it is clear where policing priorities lie.

Yesterday The Independent reported that nearly 1000 privately contracted staff were working for police forces, taking on policing duties including custody responsibilities. The contracted nature of these staff meant that although they were found partially responsible of a serious failing of care of a man in custody, they were beyond the jurisdiction of the IPCC which investigates such incidents. It has now been recommended that the IPCC’s remit is extended, however the whole issue of using contracted private staff is a serious concern. This is the gradual privatisation of policing services.

Policing – in its wider sense – is already becoming more and more privatised as shopping centres, entertainment venues and licensed premises increasingly rely on private contractors to enforce law and order – in its wider sense – calling on police assistance where required, however sometimes these blur.  In a recent case, security guards called the police on a man taking pictures of his daughter in a shopping mall, who turned up and threatened to arrest him for terrorism offenses.  After a blogstorm was whipped up the police released a rather strange statement, insisting that they had acted entirely properly and needed the public to know that, but couldnt give any details. At the moment, the police as a public service are accountable and independent of privately contracted security services, but what would happen if the police that turned up were part of the same company as the security officers?  This blurs the lines between the laws of the land, and the rules enforced in private spaces, particularly where a multinational can effectively buy its own police station.

Within the justice system it is not just policing however that is subject to privatisation, with dubious results.  In April Reliance lost the contract for prisoner transportation having “lost” over 50 prisoners who were in their custody while G4S tagged a man’s prosthetic limb, allowing him to flout a court curfew by leaving the leg at home.  The private Kilmarnock gaol has recorded 17,500 offences in the past five years – compared with only 6,000 at Barlinnie, despite it having three times the number of inmates, while Addiewell Gaol, Scotland’s only other private prison suffered three riots in just over a year of opening, the first only eight weeks after opening.   Earlier this month, Birmingham Prison changed from public to private ownership – within weeks they had lost all of the keys

To consider where a privatised justice system might end up, it is worth looking across the pond.  In the US, the Prison Industrial Complex is in full swing.  Judges have been bribed by private prisons to send them custom and corporate lobbyists for providers of prison services campaign for tougher regimes and higher sentences to increase “trade” and boost profits.  Not only is it profitable as a contract, penal labour is a lucrative business producing all of the US military’s  helmets, ammunition belts, bullet proof vests, ID tags, shirts, trousers, tents and bags.

There is also penal labour employed in Scotland, producing  goods for household names such as Wickes, Britannia Garden Products, and Airsprung beds.  In England, Ken Clarke has proposed a 40h week for prisoners, while Crispin is on record as saying that he wishes private companies to be encouraged to set up factories in Britain, and for the UK to become a global leader in inviting companies to take advantage of the “effectively free” labour.   The report “Inside Job” produced by the Policy Exchange suggests the establishment of an elite “Category W” prison worker to be directly contracted with a suggested payrate of £3.10ph, subject to tax, NI, a management fee of 25%; a post-release fund of 25% and a victim fund “donation” of 25%.  It should also be noted that under section 31 of the Prison Rules a convicted prisoner is required to work if requested to do so.

The creeping privatisation of the justice system, coupled with a clear desire on the part of government to step up the use of penal labour is a worrying trend.  The use of contracted staff in police forces has only had light shone on it through an incident where a man partially under their care ended up disabled and the privatisation of prisons progresses at the same time as there is a major push to step up the use of penal labour.  The justice system should work for the security and wellbeing of the population, not corporate profits.

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