19/07/2010 - Prisons: more cuts and privatization on the way?

TOWARDS the end of May, our article Prisons: a recipe for disaster highlighted the attempts by the Prison Officers Association (POA) and Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) to challenge the politicians to "come clean" about their prison and penal policies.  This was against a backdrop of continued privatisation and budget cuts.

We noted that:

“Both unions feel that budget cuts and overcrowding were undermining efforts to tackle reoffending and had made prisons increasingly dangerous places to work.  And the obsession with privatisation was one of the major factors behind the problems facing prisons.”

Solidarity Trade Union supported this assessment.  However, we said that we believed that the Con-Dem coalition government would accelerate the privatisation of the prisons.  We also predicted that they would also institute budget cuts as well.  

We concluded our article by saying:

“The continued privatization of Britain’s prisons – combined with cuts – is a sure fire recipe for disaster.  As such, this is a story that is likely to run and run.”

Sadly our prediction - about budget cuts - have come true.  For the justice secretary, Ken Clarke, has been told to prune around 25 per cent off of his overall budget.  He is therefore looking to cut about £2bn from the £8.7bn ministry of justice budget.   Here, the axe will fall heavily on the £4bn prisons budget.  (The £2bn legal aid bill is also thought to have been targeted).

Although it’s believed that some of the savings will come from a reduced jail building programme, many staff are rightfully fearful about their jobs and conditions. 

Front-line prison officers are particularly worried.  One POA member noted: “Because of these cuts, our workplace is more dangerous now than it has ever been."

It’s clear that that many prison officers fear that deep job cuts are on the way.  What is less clear is the Con-Dem attitude to privatization, especially in the light of the budget cuts.

Prior to the election, the Tories had proposed to honour Labour’s commitment to lift prison capacity to 96,000 by 2014.  This would have been met by building five new prisons.  (Many believe these would have been built and run by private companies).

We believe that Clarke will somehow proceed with privatization.  The Tories are ideologically committed to the idea.  And although the pace of privatization may be slower – due to the budget cuts - it will still go ahead.

All we can say is watch this space.