Prison Privatisation Explodes Incarceration Rate In Britain

9th August 2018 / United Kingdom
Prison Privatisation Explodes Incarceration Rate In Britain

TruePublica Editor: As I continue to maintain, Britain is soon to become Little America. We are on that course. Another little piece of the puzzle that confirms this is the prison population of Britain and how it is funded.

The government says that: an increase in the prison population is forecast over the horizon to March 2022, that the projected population growth is concentrated in offenders sentenced to longer sentences and that the over 50, over 60 and over 70-year-old populations are projected to rise.

What the government does not say is that the UK is currently the most incarcerated nation in Western Europe. We have the highest rate of imprisonment, according to a report by the Council of Europe.

The United States has the largest prison population in the world, and the highest per-capita incarceration rate of any country anywhere, including the most oppressive dictatorships. Aside from those, neither China nor Russia has a prison population that equates to that of America. The United States represents about 4.4 per cent of the world’s population but it houses around 22 per cent of the world’s prisoners.

During the 1980s, as a result of the War on Drugs by the Reagan Administration, the number of people incarcerated rose. This created a demand for more prison space. The result was the development of privatization and the for-profit prison industry and the sudden stratospheric rise in the American prison population. There’s money in it. So much so, that US prisons even qualify for Real Estates Investment Trust status – open to the public to invest in. Neoliberal capitalism arrives in the 1980s and is illustrated no better than the profiteering from incarceration.


A graph showing the incarceration rate under U.S. state and federal jurisdiction per 100,000 population 1925–2013. Does not include un-sentenced inmates, nor inmates in local jails


It is clear from the last three decades of prison expansion in the UK: if you build more prisons, the prison population will increase. The overcrowding will then generate a need for more prisons. And so it continues. The new prisons will not solve social problems, only create more – unless you’re talking about profit of course.

Unsurprisingly, since the start of the early 1990s, the number of prisoners has risen from under 40,000 in Britain to more than 92,000. Further increases are expected.

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In the report below by Corporate Watch, notice that the Think Tank involved has strong links to America, is the Prime Minister’s ‘favourite’ think tank and was set up originally by none other than Michael Gove – one of the most high profile Brexit campaigners. In addition, four other Tory MP’s are contributors to this think tank. 


Prison expansion policy, right-wing think tanks and prison profiteers

By Corporate Watch: The British state has been on one-long prison building bender since the nineties. In 1992, HMP Wolds opened the UK’s first privately run prison. During John Major’s time in office, a further three prisons were built by the public sector, then privately managed. Major’s government also paid the private sector to build and run two more prisons.


Britain’s prison population rises dramatically with the introduction of private investment, specifically from 1990

However, prison construction is not just a Tory love affair. Despite opposing Conservative policy on the privatisation of prisons, within one week of office Jack Straw announced on 8th May 1997, “If there are contracts in the pipeline and the only way of getting the [new prison] accommodation in place very quickly is by signing those contracts, then I will sign those contracts.”

Sign them they did – under Labour, seven more private-finance initiative prisons opened.


Now there are 14 private prisons contractually managed by private companies Sodexo Justice Services, Serco and G4S Justice Services. In 2015, research showed that privatised prisons housed 15% of our prison population, yet the government spent 23% of its prison budget on private prisons.


Labour also implemented several sentencing reforms effectively increasing the population of prisoners by giving them longer sentences than ever, as well as creating new forms of indeterminate sentence.

The British state has its own narrative of why the prison population has increased, involving factors such as sentencing reforms, higher recall rates, and others, which undoubtedly influence how many people are in prison and for how long.


“However, what is completely invisible in their analysis are the corporate actors at play and how, ultimately, “if you build it they will come”.


Future Prisons and the New-For-Old High-Value Land Grab

In November 2015, then Justice Secretary Michael Gove announced plans to build nine new mega-prisons – the first five by 2020. It is unclear whether the number planned by the state has been decidedly reduced, or if they plan to announce more prison builds after this wave of construction. Either way, the announcement was not a surprise to campaigners. The state has been following the guidance of a favourite right-wing think tank to the letter.


“American Friends of Policy Exchange (AFPX) encourages the discussion of public policy ideas between experts in the United Kingdom and the United States.”

The Policy Exchange, described by ex-Prime Minister David Cameron as his “favourite think tank”, (not forgetting the think tank’s very strong association and connections to American corporations) produced a report called ‘Future Prisons’ in 2013. The think tank, actually founded by Justice Secretary Michael Gove in 2002, calls for the government to shut more than “30 run-down and poorly-located prisons and replace them with 12 state of the art ‘Hub Prisons’, containing up to 3,000 prisoners”.

Policy Exchange claims that the new prisons would lead to “huge costs savings, a reduction in re-offending rates and a better quality of life for prisoners and prison staff.”


The policy proposals are not focused on how to reduce the prison population (this does not matter apparently) but how to reduce the cost per place.


Technology plays a large role, as does sharing staff and infrastructure in enormous mega-prisons.

The creation of these hub prisons would be financed by closing and selling “Victorian” prisons in areas of high land values, such as city centres. In the 2016 White Paper, the government renewed its commitment of “new for old” – yet so far they have only closed one prison, HMP Holloway in North London.

If one thing can be learnt from the last twenty years, is that building new prisons does not reduce overcrowding or reduce the prison population.



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