Kenya is planning to privatise prisons: Why it's risky and needs careful planning

2018-10-22 18:37
iStock

iStock

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Gráinne Perkins, University of Cape Town

Kenya is taking steps towards privatising its prisons. Gráinne Perkins asked expert Rob Allen, an independent researcher and cofounder of Justice and Prisons, about the benefits and risks of prison privatisation.

Why do countries involve the private sector in prisons?

Historically, prisons were facilities that generally fall under the authority of national governments. But this has changed over the last few decades, with private companies increasingly being brought in to run them. Governments have chosen to involve private companies in a variety of ways, for various reasons.

In high and middle-income countries some governments have contracted out –- in whole or in part –- the construction and running of prison establishments. Governments – like the US, UK, Australia and Brazil – have taken this route. The rationale has been that it will increase prison capacity, cut costs, and introduce innovation through better management and new technology. But these aims have seldom, if ever, been achieved in full. This is partly because pressures to cut costs and boost profits can mean there are insufficient staff to run safe and successful prisons.

A much larger group of countries, like France, outsource specific functions such as the provision of food for prisoners and the maintenance and repair of buildings. Services that are specialised, such as education, health care and rehabilitation, have also been outsourced. Across Europe, the trend has been towards the outsourcing of health care to private contractors.

The private sector is also increasingly involved in providing employment opportunities for prisoners while they are in jail. This can be in factories, farms or other productive activities. Such activities are commonplace in Asian prisons.

It’s this limited type of privatisation that’s currently planned in Kenya. More comprehensive private sector involvement has been proposed, but despite considerable support, it has so far not been pursued.

How widespread is prison privatisation in Africa?

The only privatised prisons are in South Africa where it’s limited to two prisons, with a capacity of 3,000 inmates. In 2002, two private companies were each awarded 25 year concessions to design, build, finance and operate each prison.

File 20181011 154555 od0qap.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1Private companies can provide services - like catering - for inmates. LightField Studios/Shutterstock

The conditions in the prisons today are generally viewed as being better than public prisons. Specifications, like accommodation and activities, in the contracts were based on prisons in the UK.

There are also countless examples of small-scale businesses being involved in prisons in other African countries.

Ethiopia’s Mekelle prison created more than 30 active cooperatives that provided work for prisoners before and after release.

Ghana is planning a public private partnership programme that would see inmates involved in large scale production of maize and oil palm as well as livestock especially poultry and piggery using prisoners.

What has the impact of privatisation been?

Experience of wholesale privatisation of prisons across the world has been mixed. And there’s no clear-cut evidence that it provides better value for money or improves standards.

Birmingham Prison in England, run by the private security company G4S, was recently taken back into public control following a disastrous inspection report highlighting shocking levels of violence and drugs. The same company lost control of a South African prison in 2013 following concerns over deteriorating safety and security.

But the company has also had plenty of successes. A G4S prison in Liverpool has generally received positive reports.

Nevertheless, there are some general concerns over prison privatisation. One is that turning prisons into a market opportunity means that companies will lobby for tougher penalties. Most of the evidence for this comes from the US.

There are more widespread concerns too that privatisation opens up possibilities for corruption among politicians, officials and even judges.

Private companies could also take advantage of the situation. In the UK, for example, two firms providing electronic tags on released prisoners were found to have been billing the government for tracking the movement of offenders who had moved abroad, returned to prison or even died.

What key steps should Kenya be taking to ensure it is done well?

The Nelson Mandela Rules –- the United Nation’s standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners – express a preference that institutional industries and agriculture businesses should be operated directly by the prison administration and not by private contractors. This is because of concerns that the prisoner’s vocational training may be subordinated to the purpose of making a financial profit from an industry in the prison.

But the UN also says that:

With the right safeguards, private companies can play a major role in providing employment opportunities inside and outside prison, as well as upon release.

Steps need to be taken to ensure prisoners are not exploited. Compelling prisoners to work for the private sector is prohibited by the Forced Labour Convention and wages and conditions should be close to normal labour. While it is legitimate for prisons to retain a proportion of income generated from work conducted by prisoners, the system needs to be transparent and accountable. Measures must be taken to minimise corrupt practice.

Because prison privatisation is a risky path to take, Kenya should carefully consider all options. There may be a case for new prisons to be built. Nevertheless, a very careful cost benefit analysis should be carried out first. For instance, a better bet may be to find ways to reduce the use of pre-trial detention – almost half of Kenya’s 54,000 prisoners are in custody pending trial -– and make more use of community service orders, instead of short prison sentences.The Conversation

Gráinne Perkins, PhD, Centre of Criminology, University of Cape Town

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Read more on:    kenya  |  east africa

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X

Inside News24

 
/News
Traffic Alerts

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Jobs in Western Cape region

Reporting Accountant

Cape Town
Network Finance Professional / Prudential
R310 000.00 - R360 000.00 Per Year

SQL Reporter

Cape Town
Communicate Cape Town IT
R10 000.00 - R12 000.00 Per Month

Cluster Financial Manager

Cape Town
Network Finance
R950 000.00 - R1 000 000.00 Per Year

Property [change area]

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.