Monday, January 21, 2013
The privatisation of chunks of prison and probation related parts of the criminal justice system has worked some people up into a lather. Coupled with the concept of Payment by Results (PbR) as a means to reduce reoffending, it is clear to all but the wilfully stupid that the government intends to impose significant change.
I can’t recall having a fundamental issue with the privatisation of punishment – the essence of the matter – as someone, somewhere is making money out of the whole affair. Whether screws or suppliers of cell doors, prisons are a money laundering machine. That the private sector claims to be able to do this more efficiently is, to my mind, hardly a moral point but a practical one. Not that the moral debate was ignored – it just passed by in the blink of an eye 25 years ago and attempting to resurrect it is politically futile.
That lot said, to find myself on a conference platform as host of an event sponsored by G4S was one of those moments when I had to give serious consideration as to the nature of reality. Surely I have slipped across the quantum boundaries into a different reality? For there I was, with an old prison Area Manager, now glad-handing him as a head honcho at G4S. Strange days.
Not everyone is as sanguine over a future where giants such as G4S dominate. Probation officers in particular are taking to the streets in mass outraged mobs….Well, putting down the recall forms long enough to hack out a tweet or two, at least. And the objections seem to be wildly ideological, reducing to “private=bad, public=good”. And crazy libertarian that I am, such ideology doesn’t interest me one bit.
Public services are rarely better than private ones – if at all. The people who make up the organisations can be as lazy, useless or professional as anyone in the private sector. The difference is, a lousy public sector organisation that fails to deliver doesn’t go bust, it just keeps wasting the public’s money. If a private company consistently did badly, it would go bust and open the way for a new competitor.
The idea that private industry is inherently bad is a silly one. The profit motive has driven Western culture to the heights where it dominates the globe. Along with democracy, private enterprise is the greatest contribution the West has made to mankind. And we enjoy its benefits every moment of every day. To dismiss private enterprise when it encroaches purely because of the profit motive is positively weak-minded.
The criminal justice landscape is changing and ideological objections seem to be futile. It is a fascinating time, where adaptation and flexibility may signal the survival of the best old ideas and practices and the demise of the useless.
Adapt or die. And I’m adapting like hell. And sharing space with G4S is a portent of very fluid times.