Prisons should be subject to fixed-term contracts

21 February 2013

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21 February 2013 | Adam Leach

Contracts for the management and operation of prison facilities in England and Wales should run for fixed periods and be put out to tender at the end of each term, according to Reform.

In The case for private prisons published today, the think tank proposed the current arrangements prevent “meaningful accountability”. It argued as the 133 prisons that are directly managed by the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) are not subject to fixed-term contracts, they are not sufficiently held to account. It called for both publicly and privately run prisons to have to compete against rival bidders to retain contracts.

The report said: “The current system of direct management from NOMS prevents meaningful accountability against a set of key indicators over a set period. All prisons, public and private, should be made subject to fixed-term contracts or service level agreements that are competed at the end of each term.”

In the paper, Reform analysis of Ministry Of Justice data argued prisons run by the private sector outperformed those that are publicly run in three of the four performance measures. Its results put 12 out of 12 private prisons ahead on resource management and efficiency, seven out of 12 ahead on decency, and the same number for reducing re-offending, but just five out of 12 ahead on public protection.

Last year, justice secretary Chris Grayling announced four prisons being run by the private sector were to revert back to being run by the public sector. This was taken by Reform as a move away from privatisation and competition.

Responding to the paper, justice minister Jeremy Wright said: “Let's be clear, there has been no u-turn on the use of prison competition. The cost of running our prisons is too high and must be reduced. The recent competition process identified a new approach for reducing costs and improving services aimed at reducing reoffending at a faster rate involving the private sector.”

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