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Private Prisoners

14 October 2009

The role of the private sector in the UK’s criminal justice system is substantial and likely to grow. Jane Fenwick spoke to Tony Leech of Kalyx, operators of four PFI prisons in England and Scotland, about the challenges his team face.

SINCE THE 1990’S WHEN, controversially, the private sector was invited to participate in the custodial sector, its role and its reputation has grown. To date there are 13 privately run prisons in the UK holding just over 9,000 prisoners – that’s about 11 percent of the prison population.

The vast majority of Britain's prisoners are, however, housed in 122 prisons operated by the Prison Service. But such is the growing confidence in the effective role of private sector operators that in the next phase of new prison building, private sector managed and financed facilities are planned to have an equal share.

The Ministry of Justice announced in 2007 that the current maximum prison population of nearly 90,000 (2009) is expected to rise to nearly 96,000 maximum by 2014. It is planned to deliver 8,000 new prison places by 2012, through a combination of new prisons, and expansions at existing prisons, both public and private.

The Government has undertaken that the operation of this new capacity will be roughly shared between the private and public sectors.

Eleven of the privately run prisons are PFI funded - DCMF (Designed, Constructed, Managed and Financed). All new prisons built since the 1990’s have been this model of private prisons. Like PFIs in other sectors, the contracts run generally for 25 years after which the facility is returned to the National Offender Management Service (NOMS).

They are subject to penalties for failure to meet performance targets set by the Government.

As Tony Leech, Managing Director of prison sector specialists, Kalyx (part of Sodexo UK and Ireland), explained, "We are paid on the availability of the number of places required in the contract. If it is a 700 bed prison, we are paid for making those cells and beds available to NOMS – if a cell is out of service, we don’t get paid."

This sounds simple enough but the reality is that private sector prisons such as the four run by Kalyx, provide a lot more that a bed in a secure facility. As Leech went on to explain, each prison is "benchmarked and scored on a range of factors include whether a discharged prisoner has accommodation arranged outside for when he leaves and whether he has interviews or a job to go to." Kalyx leads a consortium comprising partners Interserve (construction) and HLM (architects).

As Leech explained, the Government provides an output specification not only relating the number and type of prisoners to be accommodated, but also to prisoner outcomes and the training and rehabilitation facilities and services provided. He said, "Following the submission of design concept ideas and initial feedback, the Government adopts a competitive dialogue process with three selected consortia. By the end of the process you should have had feedback on the main issues including operational, planning and design factors before submitting a formal tender."

This process has introduced a whole range of advances in building construction and design in this sector, such as designing in training, work and rehabilitation facilities and services rather than adding them on as in the older prisons As Leech explained, a key improvement in new prisons is the visibility and ease of flow of prisoner movement. "We don’t want to lose lines of site when prisoners move from their cell blocks to the services areas for work, teaching or visiting the chaplain. Prisons can be designed so that prisoners all go down one thoroughfare and all these facilities are located off this route. Older designs are more complex and it is easier to lose sight of prisoners and this requires prison officers to be located to along the route. Good design allows for a more competitive staffing element and technology has released correctional officers to interact with prisoners which is what they are trained to do, rather than just watching security monitors."

Whilst NOMS does not specify the exact detail of facilities, it does require certain minimum standards of prisoner care to be met. These include how many hours the prisoner is out of his cell, reducing how much contraband is found in cells and the reducing the number of assaults recorded on staff and other prisoners. When Kaylx

opened its latest prison at the end of 2008 – HMP Addiewell in Scotland – it faced public criticism for providing ‘luxurious’ en suite shower facilities in each cell. As Leech explained, "Addiewell’s prisoners can leave their cells washed and ready for their activities without the need for the extra supervision and time needed to take them to central washroom facilities."

HMP Addiewell is the fourth and newest of Kalyx’s prisons. Its first is HMP Forest Bank in Salford, opened in 2000. It is one of the largest prisons in the country with a capacity of 1,160 male offenders. HMP Bronzefield in Ashford, Middlesex, opened in 2004 and is the only privately managed purpose built prison for women in the country. It has a capacity for 465 women and a 12- place mother and baby unit.

HMP Peterborough opened in 2005 and is the country’s only purpose built dual prison for men and women with a capacity for 624 men and 396 women kept separately. It also has a 12-place mother and baby unit.

Kalyx employs over 2,000 people in its corrections business from prison governors to nurses and teachers.

HMP Addiewell, built for the Scottish Prison service has 12 wings. It is a culmination of the learning from Kalyx’s other facilities. HMP Addiewell is classified as a ‘learning prison’ and is equipped with training workshops that are able to provide further education qualifications such as NVQs. It has 23 classrooms used for teaching numeracy and literacy as well as basic skills and qualifications to provide prisoners with the best chance to get employment or continue their education on leaving.

Kalyx is responsible for the maintenance and life cycle of the prisons it manages and works closely with consulting engineers Arup and maintenance contractors SPIE Matthew Hall to ensure that it gets the best life out of the buildings and hand them back after 25 years with only ‘fair wear and tear’. Experience from HMP Forest Bank has led to improved cell doors being installed at HMP Addiewell together with cell windows that have a moveable vent operated by the prisoner. "Addiewell is in a different country with a different environment which brings its own challenges," commented Leech. Natural light streams in through the central walkway and into the education, kitchen and learning facilities helping to improve working conditions as well as minimise energy costs.

Many of the traditional FM services such as cleaning and catering are provided by the prisoners themselves as part of their work programme. The prisoners are responsible for cleaning their own cells and wings, and some are employed to clean common areas including education rooms, kitchens and gyms. "Prisoners are taught to use floor scrubbers and industrial polishers, and we have training programmes on health and safety and commercial cleaning skills. They do a very good job. We employ people to train them and ensure the cleaning standards are maintained."

All prison kitchens are manned by prison staff with professional staff to train them. HMP Forest Bank has a training kitchen separate from the main kitchen that provides training for prisoners in commercial cooking and waiting services to the standard of a quality hotel or restaurant outside. "We have started to look at ways in which Sodexo can employ prisoners in our own commercial operations," explained Leech.

Kaylyx’s prisons have contracts with outside suppliers to use its workshops to repair office chairs and make and assemble electronic components. These provide real work experience and regularly provide employment opportunities for ex-prisoners. At HMP Addiewell, Kaylx works with a number of external organisations as part of its community engagement including the Wise Group’s ‘Routes out of prison’ project, Lanarkshire’s Through Care team and The Circle Group which supports prisoner’s families and helps to prepare prisoners to leave prison.

Leech joined Kalyx in 2003 following a 16 year career in the South and West Australian Prison Services where he managed and operated prisons. Australia has about 17 per cent of its prisoners housed in private prisons, but Leech recognises that the British experience among the best in the world. "The UK has a good prison services and in terms of the PFM market, it is the most mature and well tested contractually, and with a competitive and strong supplier market," he said.

It needs to be as the next phase of prison development will be a demanding one. The controversial three Titan prisons housing 2,500 prisoners each have been scaled down to five 1,500 bed prisons with the first two in East London and Essex due to be tendered later this year. "Size has much to do with design, and how the prison is set up and managed. We think that 1,500 is a number we can work with. The range of possibilities depends on whether the prison population is a similar or distinct groups housingin the one facility. The government is looking to the market for innovation."


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