The National Association of Probation Officers, NAPO, struck on 5/6 November against government proposals to privatise probation and rehabilitation of offenders. Probation is seen as a business worth £820 million per year, with over 233,000 people on probation or parole. Electronic tagging of offenders is a £1 billion market despite G4S and Serco being embroiled in allegations of tagging the dead or overcharging.
Britain has 14 privately run prisons. It was in fact the first country in Europe to open a privatised prison, now followed by all EU states. More privatised prisons are to follow as 19th-century jails are closed and vast super-prisons are built, most of which will be run by the private sector – G4S, Serco, Sodexo. G4S operates in 125 countries, employing over 657,000 “security staff”. In Britain its sites range from prisons and immigration centres to secure training units. Elsewhere in the world it provides bodyguards and mercenaries.
The model is the USA prison system. The United States has 5 per cent of the world’s population but 25 per cent of the world’s prisoners. The US prison system costs the country $39 billion a year, the equivalent of two-thirds of the US state education budget. Around half of US prisoners are incarcerated for victimless crimes, with the three strikes rule ensuring there is no rehabilitation in many states.
The standard US state contract with the privatised prison system is that if the prison has an empty bunk, the US state faces a financial penalty. So the pressure on the individual US states is to maximise the prison population. It’s a spiral of madness guaranteeing an ever-expanding prison building programme, an ever-growing prison population and guaranteed profits for the companies. In terms of the proportion of prisoners to the population as a whole, the USA tops the prison population league, followed by Britain, South Korea, France, Germany, and Japan .
Two British police forces are seeking to privatise police services, crime investigation, public safety and so on. West Midlands and Surrey are looking at a £1.5 billion seven-year privatisation deal. The only police back-room services privatisation to date, Lincolnshire, was for a mere £200 million.
Criminality is to be a revenue stream worth billions as the dividing line between crime and legality disappears. No longer is it about tackling the causes of crime, which would be far too difficult for the pompously entitled Ministry of Justice and all the agencies which hang off it – courts, police, probation, and so on, as that would mean tackling the class divide. The causes of crime, the effects of crime, the victims of crime and those unfortunates to be caught are to be nothing more than building blocks in protecting business interests and profits, effectively “legalising” criminality. ■