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Prisons: Private Sector

Question for Ministry of Justice

UIN 281832, tabled on 24 July 2019

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, with reference to Written Statement of 22 July 2019 on Prisons and Probation, HCWS1783, what assessment he has made of how partnering with the private sector to operate prisons offers value for money.

Answered on

3 September 2019

A balanced estate, with a mix of public, voluntary and private sector involvement has been shown to introduce improvements and deliver value for money for the taxpayer. The private sector has an important role to play in our system; it has led the way in driving innovation in areas such as in-cell technology and family support services.

Some privately run prisons are among the best performing across the estate. For example, HM Inspectorate of Prisons said in July 2018 that Oakwood is an “impressive prison” and found it to be reasonably good or better on all four healthy prison tests (safety, respect, purposeful activity, and rehabilitation and release planning). General living conditions, staff-prisoner relationships and prisoner consultation were reported to be very good or excellent.

To manage the performance indicators set out in the contracts, each privately managed prison has a full-time on-site Controller, Deputy Controller and Assistant Controller, all employed by HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS). The Controller has regular review meetings with the contractor against a range of performance indicators that will reflect numbers of staff in post, recruitment, training, sickness, and attrition. Where action is needed, progress is monitored by the Controller and escalated within HMPPS where appropriate action can be taken in accordance with the contract. This may include a requirement for urgent improvement and/or financial deductions.

The Prison Operator Framework will increase the diversity and resilience of the custodial services market in England and Wales, by creating a pool of prison operators who can provide high quality, value for money, custodial services and enable us to effectively and efficiently manage a pipeline of competition over the next six years. The MoJ sets out very clearly the standards that all private prison operators are required to deliver. Bids will be subject to value for money and affordability tests. Contracts will not be awarded if bids do not meet quality or value for money thresholds based on a public sector benchmark, and in this scenario, HMPPS would act as the provider.

Although privately managed prisons do face many of the same challenges encountered in public sector prisons, by providing good quality custodial and rehabilitation services, private operators are helping us to reduce reoffending and deliver long term savings to the taxpayer.

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