Thursday, 12 September 2013

New prisons bishop questions role of private sector in prisons system

Newly appointed Prisons Bishop Richard Moth has called into question the growing role of the private sector in the criminal justice system. Addressing the launch of the Caritas Social Action Network Criminal Justice Forum, Bishop Moth questioned the morality of making money out of incarcerating human beings. The bishop accepted that the private sector had been part of the prisons system for some time but suggested that any private enterprise will need to have a financial return for shareholders. ”So there is a temptation to make money out of another’s crime- morally that has to be questionable,” said Bishop Moth, who expressed similar concerns over the privatisation of the probation service that see plans for the work to be handed over to a number of big companies. The bishop praised the role of the House of Lords in putting a hold on the latter process until further assessment. “The Church needs to maintain a voice as this debate goes forward,” said Bishop Moth, who urged that “the prison system must continue to offer the opportunity for reform and rehabilitation.” Bishop Moth said that there is more that can be done by parish communities to help with prisoners. “A welcoming community will do much to change the pattern of re-offending,” said Bishop Moth. The bishop highlighted overcrowding in prisons and the detrimental effect this has on efforts to educate and rehabilitate prisoners. “Staff to inmate ratios continue to be a difficulty,” said Bishop Moth, who told how overcrowding resulted in prisoners being locked for longer in their cells. “This is a backward step on the path to rehabilitation,” said Bishop Moth. Andy Keen Downs, chief executive of Pact, addressed the Coalition Government’s efforts to marketise rehabilitation by opening probation up to the private and voluntary sectors. A payment by results culture is being contemplated. Probation work is being split among 21 prime and subcontractors. These are likely to be large companies with the funding to undertake the work. Mr Keen Downs said the challenge for Church organisations working in the criminal justice system will be whether to engage or risk getting frozen out. “There is also the danger that ideas will get taken and used,” said Mr Keens Down, who named mentoring as one practice undertaken by the likes of Pact that the commercial companies could be interested in adopting. “There is also a reputational risk of working with these firms,” he said. Mr Keen Down said he had never seen morale as low in the prison system as it is now. He also expressed concerns over safety in prisons as staff numbers are increasingly reduced.

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