Vox Pop: Should private firms be involved in youth custody?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Private prisons have come under fire after an ex-team leader at a privately run centre was convicted of dragging a boy across the floor.

YES: John Plummer, project director, Young Offenders Academy

My primary concern is for the governance, accountability and transparency of all parts of the criminal justice system. I believe this is much more important than the legal form of the organisation that is contracted to deliver services.

There have been tragic examples of misconduct and criminal or improper behaviour in institutions run by the private, public and third sectors, just as there are examples of excellence.

One of the keys to success in the future will be ensuring that all contractors accept a new approach to governance as well as responsibility and accountability to local communities. They must be genuinely transparent.

NO: Frances Crook, director, The Howard League for Penal Reform

Private prisons were introduced to do things better and improve outcomes, but that has simply not happened.

Child jails are closed and secret institutions where children are vulnerable and need added protection and expert guidance. Instead, they are under the watch of barely trained and poorly paid staff, whose main priority is security and control.

Long-term welfare of children and wider society is ignored; their motive is to make a profit, not to provide a service.

YES: Lyn Costello, co-founder, Mothers Against Murder and Aggression

There is a role for them to play, but only if they are properly checked and inspected and have the best interests of the children at the heart of what they do. If a private firm is hired just to lock them up then that is wrong.

Whoever is running a young offender institution needs to be aware that they should be offering further support, such as for mental health. These are young people after all and they should not be mistreated.

NO: Pam Hibbert, chair, National Association for Youth Justice

The priority in the running of these centres is that they are properly regulated and managed under the Children Act. I believe that it is the responsibility of the state to provide the management of these centres as it is the state that has sent the young people there.

There is also an issue of firms involved in youth justice profiteering from the work. That is not right.

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