Monday, 16 January 2012

Reducing prison inmate numbers and cleaning up crime

At a simplistic level there are some obvious ways of reducing the prison population, including:
  1. Turning a blind eye to crime,
  2. Reducing the number of custodial sentences,
  3. Reducing reoffending, and
  4. Making it easier for the prison population to escape.
It is with that in mind I was interested to learn that the Justice Secretary is outsourcing £2bn of prison service management.  Will that lead to a reduction in reoffending or an increase in escapes?

The short-listed bidders include some firms who lack any experience
in prison management but appear to have a pedigree in providing cleaning services.  Also included is a firm that managed an American prison when an escape took place  - the escape went undetected for quite some time as the security system had been broken for 2.5 years! Another of those shortlisted has had questions asked about deaths in custody!  Have these firms been included on the shortlist as they will 'clean-up' crime through reducing reoffending or, 'clean-up' at the expense of the MoJ through making it easier to escape?

The contracts will introduce 'ground breaking payments by results'.  Wasn't hard labor a.k.a. 'ground breaking' used to be a punishment to deter reoffendin.   More importantly, how will the outcomes be measured? How will reoffending outside the life of the contract be dealt with?  What will trigger the release (is that a pun?) and witholding of payment? 

Regardless, those who have a previous history of delivering prison management must be better placed in understanding the historical costs of running a service? How will the tender prices submitted by the cleaning companies be calculated?  What will the MoJ do if those bids appear abnormally low when the firms have already been judged to be sufficient to navigate the supplier appriasal and be invited to ITT?  Speaking of abnorrmally low bids, is there a robust realistic cost comparator? What happens if the comparator proves to be too low, will the service be retained inhouse?

Aparently some in the prison service are attracted by the thought of moving to a private provider as their ability to innovate will not be as stiffled.  What is so constraining in the current approach which obstructs innovation?

It would be interesting to know something of the competition strategy.  How was technical capacity and capability judged and evidenced?

I assume there was a robust approach to the shortlisting and hopefully the lessons have been learnt from the recent MoJ IT procurement.

Background reading:
Ford, R. (2012) 'They steal my best govenors', The Times, 16 January, p.31.
Lee, R. (2012) '£2bn prisons sell-off opens dorr to massive privatitisation', The Times, 16 January, p.31.

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