Is it time to rethink private prisons?

The UK prison system has reached crisis point. From serious overcrowding in 77 out of 119 prisons in the UK, to a rise in custodial deaths, self-harm and assault, it is clear that the government is failing UK prisoners. 25.3% of prisoners re-offend and for young adults the figure is higher at 37.9%. Our prisons clearly do not provide an effective system of punishment or rehabilitation and it is UK citizens who must fund this failure.

Given budgetary constraints, one solution to these problems would be to introduce market forces by experimenting with more private prisons. Currently we have 14 private prisons in the UK. This is a good solution partly because it saves the government money: less is paid to these private companies to run the prisons than it would cost the government to run them themselves. The reason for this is that the government does not have any incentive to run prisons at the lowest cost; arguably it has more important things to deal with, for example Brexit, and struggles to include prison efficiency in its legislative agenda. In addition, it is allocatively inefficient as the government does not provide society with a prison system they want or fully respect. However, if contracted out to private companies, the government would save money and therefore have more money to spend on other priorities.

Moreover, by handing over the prison system to private companies, the government could reward companies based upon their re-offending rates. This means that the companies would put more money and effort into training staff properly and into running effective rehabilitation schemes, hopefully increasing the wellbeing of prisoners and decreasing rates of self-harm and assault. Therefore if prisoner well-being is increased and skills improved, it would lead to a safer society due to reduced re-offending rates. Prisoners would also have the skills to work towards a long-term job and this would reduce crime rates as there would be less unemployment.

Caitlin Keenan is the winner of the Under-18 category of the ASI's 'Young Writer on Liberty' competition.