Charity in surprise jails contracts bid
A penal reform pressure group has launched a surprise bid to run two new prisons.
Nacro, a charity which attempts to cut crime by finding practical work for offenders, has formed a consortium to win Government contracts for jails in Merseyside and London.
It joined forces with private security firm G4S, a drugs charity and a construction company in its bid to run 600-bed Maghull and Belmarsh West prisons.
Nacro has previously been sceptical of some private sector involvement in prison management. But the charity’s chief executive, Paul Cavadino, said: “The best way of ensuring that they are being run properly is to be involved in planning this from the start.
“If you are involved in the planning of the regime, it makes it much more likely that a prison will be providing high-quality resettlement and rehabilitation.
“Prisoners would be therefore much better prepared for reform.”
Belmarsh West, to be built next door to Belmarsh high-security prison in south east London, and Maghull are due to be finished by 2010.
The bid marks the first time that a voluntary group has attempted to operate a prison, a Nacro source said.
Applications to run the prisons will close in October, and the Government will announce who has won the contracts next year. Two other bids are believed to have been submitted already.
Nacro, which was launched in the 1960s, works with both the private and public sector in 40 prisons across England and Wales.
Last week the organisation joined a coalition warning Justice Secretary Jack Straw that proposals to build three 2,500-bed jails would “squander” public money and leave Britain the prisons capital of Europe.
Nacro claimed the plans would damage efforts to take criminals away from a life of crime and exacerbate mental health problems in jails.
Mr Straw said that he understood fears that “Titan” jails could be nothing more than warehouses for inmates.
He said he would consider the plans “very carefully” as the Government’s consultation period drew to a close.
“There was never ever a plan for there to be a single large jail with a single regime within its walls,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. The plan was and is for there to be a number of units within a large campus.”
Responding to Nacro’s application for two jails, the Ministry of Justice said bidders had been encouraged to enter into partnership with the voluntary and community sectors.
An MoJ spokesman said: “The National Offender Management Service does encourage the use of the voluntary sector in the provision of services for offenders.”
Social care charity Turning Point was also linked with a separate bid to run a prison alongside security company Serco Group.
Responding to the speculation, charity spokeswoman Sue Harris said: “Although it is Turning Point’s policy not to comment on specific ongoing business tenders, it is important to point out that we are delighted that new, innovative ways of working in the criminal justice system are being created.”
The Liberal Democrats welcomed Nacro’s bid.
Justice spokesman David Howarth said: “Given the mess the Government has made of managing prisons, it is pleasing that Nacro are getting involved on the ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ principle.
“It will take a large effort, however, to improve the performance of Group 4 Securicor (G4S).”