By David Breakspear

I was recently asked to be a guest speaker on an American live radio show to talk about the collateral damage of injustice and corruption in US prisons. The show is aired from Colorado Springs, so in order to be able to talk about local issues, as I usually cover correctional facilities in Florida, I set about researching prisons in Colorado – which also led me to Louisiana – and I came across a company formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) that changed their name to Core Civic in October 2016 during ongoing scrutiny of the private prison industry in the US.

As I was researching, I was struck by how easily we could be faced with the same issues embodied by CCA/Core Civic here in the UK.

Core Civic is notorious for its poor treatment of prisoners and for numerous preventable injuries and deaths in its prisons and immigration detention centres. Yet, they operate over 60 facilities in 20 states with a revenue of $1.736 billion.

This link is to a short video recorded by an undercover reporter working as a prison guard in Winn Correctional Center, Winn Parish, Louisiana. Winn Correctional Center was the first medium security private prison that CCA owned and managed. Core Civic has been open to some criticism over recent years for cost-cutting exercises, hiring ineffective staff, and extensive lobbying for stricter criminal laws and mandatory sentencing terms in order to generate more prisoners.

In 1996, Core Civic took over the state-run prison, Bent County Correctional facility, which then became the first private facility in Colorado. Since 1996, the capacity of the prison has doubled, then doubled again to its current capacity of 1,466 prisoners.

The population of Bent County is less than 6,000. In America, they seem to locate correctional facilities close to small towns where Core Civic becomes the main employer of the area! The company have also been scrutinised over employing two former directors of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), Harley Lappin – who had run the BOP since 2003 – and J. Michael Quinlan, who had both resigned from the BOP following an unrelated scandal.

Core Civic is notorious for its poor treatment of prisoners and for numerous preventable injuries and deaths in its prisons and immigration detention centres. Yet, they operate over 60 facilities in 20 states with a revenue of $1.736 billion.

Meanwhile in the UK, as of July 2017, there has been a planning application to build a new category C prison on the existing site of HMP Full Sutton in East Yorkshire.

The initial application was for 1,017 prisoners, which after a revised application late last year, has now been upped to 1,440. The new build is part of the government’s commitment to creating 10,000 new jail spaces by 2020.

My concerns are many: although Full Sutton is still being managed by the Ministry of Justice, it will, no doubt, soon become part of the growing private prison estate.

Two of my many concerns centre around, firstly, the current staffing issues faced by the prison system. Although the government have been somewhat successful in upping staffing levels following former justice secretary, Chris Grayling’s, disastrous staff cutting exercise, prisons are still struggling to retain staff and the numbers are far from what is needed right now.

My second main concern comes from a recent speech given by the justice secretary, David Gauke. Mr Gauke highlighted the fact that not only do we lock up more people per capita than our European counterparts, we also lock people up for longer periods of time. He explained that the Ministry of Justice is looking at approaches in reversing this trend whilst also looking at non-custodial, alternative sentencing – along with cutting sentences of six months and under. This is an approach to reduce sentencing, and a concentrated effort to reduce reoffending. Mr. Gauke labelled this new initiative ‘Smart Justice’. On one hand, the Ministry of Justice is looking to reduce prison numbers, whilst continuing on the other hand to provide 10,000 new prison spaces by 2020.

Where will the staff and prisoners come from?

Featured image: unknown author, licensed under Creative Commons

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