A new briefing by the free market thinktank, Reform, sets out to reignite the debate about the role of the private sector in our prisons. The case for private prisons argues that the justice secretary Chris Grayling was wrong when he announced at the end of 2012 his decision to finish the rolling programme of prison contracting and pursue a "new approach" limiting already widespread competition to rehabilitation and ancillary services.
Making selective use of Ministry of Justice data to highlight "the superior performance by the private sector against comparable public sector prisons", Reform calls for the extension of prison competition through market testing, introducing fixed term contracts and increased flexibility over pay and conditions for all prisons.
The UK already has the most privatised prison system in Europe. In England and Wales there were 12,872 prisoners (15% of the prisoner population) held in private prisons as at 30 September 2012. This is a higher proportion than in the US, where the figure is around 9%. In addition, five more existing public prisons are to be privately managed. In a competition from which the prison service is now expressly excluded, contracts for HMPs Moorland, Hatfield, and Lindholme, combined as a South Yorkshire prison cluster, along with HMPs Castington and Acklington, also combined to form a new HMP Northumberland, will be awarded in 2013. As a result approximately 2,700 more prisoners will be held privately.