Prisons: Clarke's front door privatisation

Submitted by AWL on 15 July, 2010 - 9:22 Author: Steve Gillan

Steve Gillan, General Secretary of the Prison Officers’ Association, spoke to Solidarity about the government’s plans to reduce the prison population.

If it was sincere, then it would be good. Anybody would want to see a reduction in people going to jail. There are 95,000 people in prisons. We’re bursting at the seams. I don’t think Clarke really intends to reduce those numbers — just move people around.

Clarke wants to move the work away from the public sector, and into the private. It’s an ethos that was shared by New Labour. They’re happy to let people make a profit out of incarceration.

If you gave prison officers the adequate funding to do the job properly, then reoffending rates would fall. We need to address drug abuse, alcohol abuse and mental illness. Otherwise you’re putting a sticking plaster on an oil leak.

There needs to be a root and branch review of the whole justice system. If you say stop giving people 12 month sentences, then magistrates will just start giving people 13 month sentences.

It shouldn’t be about sentencing someone on the basis of cost alone. It should be about protecting the public and giving the public confidence in community sentencing.

Community sentencing doesn’t work because most people in jail are not first time offenders. They have already had community orders and they have not worked.

Clarke was talking about a “rehabilitation revolution” where the public and private sector will be paid by results. No-one really knows what that means. Does it mean not paying a firm if someone reoffends? He talks about the voluntary sector — that’s confusing to people, because voluntary sector providers in the prison system get paid too.

This love affair with the private sector — SERCO, SODEXO (KALYX), G4S — has got to end.

We think it is morally repugnant for anyone to be earning a profit from anyone’s incarceration, and that’s what’s happening all over the UK. There is evidence that rehabilitation is more successful where prison officers in the public sector lead rehabilitation.

I think Clarke is doing front door privatisation. He’s being quite open about it. He was boasting at KCL that he introduced the first private prison.

They’re going to destroy probation as we know it. They want fewer probation officers so that they can take on the private sector. Caseload in probation has massively gone up, about tenfold. Prisoners are not getting the support mechanisms that they need. You’ll see a de-skilling of police officers as well. There will be an attack on legal aid. A review might be a good idea, as in the past legal aid has been given out in a fairly lax way.

If there are going to be issues that will be dealt with in the community, you need clear, evidence-based rehabilitation programmes run by trained people. I don’t think that the private sector or the voluntary sector can deal with that. There needs to be a sentencing policy that the public has confidence in. A community order for a burglar will not address their behaviour or protect the public.

Where does crime start? At school age? We don’t know. If so, we need to educate youngsters more. If the problem is social exclusion, we need to look at those areas and break down the culture in those areas.

In the east end of Glasgow, there are some of the worst crime rates and deprivation in the UK. People have got no hope there. Until we address that as a society you’ll never get to the root cause of crime. It’s about taking people out of the poverty.

For two years running the POA took a proposal to the TUC for a general strike. I think with the severity of these cuts a co-ordinated action is inevitable. We either accept that public sector workers will bear the brunt of this and the bankers get off scot-free, or choices have to be made and I expect the TUC will make the correct choice.

I think the unions do support each other but they need to become more co-ordinated. Look at 1984 — the miners were left isolated! There needs to be collective action so no union is left isolated. Sometimes there is too much of a rush to take strike action and we need to be cuter at how we do things, rather than falling into the trap of doing what’s expected. We need to come out with arguments first then take action.

I think the Labour Party has lost its way, for many years now. It no longer represents working class people. I’m a member but I don’t know how I fit into the Labour Party. I’ve never been New Labour. As for the leadership candidates, there’s not a fag paper between them.

If Diane Abbott is the left then I’m worried. I’d have preferred to see John McDonnell stand.

What the trade unions should do in the Party is the million dollar question — people don’t know what to do. But I think there is no alternative but to remain in the Party. You can’t fight from outside.

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