More sexual assaults and self harm in privately-run prisons, UK government data shows

By on 05/04/2015 | Updated on 25/09/2020

British prisons run by private companies account for a higher proportion of fighting, sexual assaults, drug-taking, self-harming, hunger strikes, and prisoner escapes than public-sector prisons, according to analysis by The Independent on Sunday.

The newspaper examined figures released by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) which gave a snapshot of incidents in all jails between January and June last year.

It found that, while Britain’s 14 private prisons hold just 18% of the country’s prisoners, they accounted for 23% of assaults in the first six months of 2014 alone and one in four prisoners’ escapes.

The privately-run jails also accounted for more than a third of all drug seizures, and 32% of ‘deliberate self-harm’ incidents involving prisoners.

Around a third of all cases of vandalism by prisoners and hunger strikes occurred in private prisons, and 28% of rooftop protests took place in private facilities.

The statistics do not pick out incidents such as bomb threats and attempted escapes. Intead, these are included in a category called ‘miscellaneous’ incidents.

Of these, more than 1,200 (around 28%) took place in private jails.

The Independent also reports that the latest annual performance ratings issued by the National Offender Management Service show that not one privately-run prison managed to score an ‘exceptional performance’ rating.

However, more than one in 10 of the publicly-run prisons were judged to be in this category.

The data is based on 27 indicators.

The MoJ has dismissed the findings. A spokesperson for the MoJ said: “It is wrong to make comparisons between establishments, whether public or private sector, based on just a partial view of the data. It is totally misleading, and does not take into account the different circumstances in each prison.

“We have a comprehensive system for measuring prison performance, and manage private prison contracts to get the best performance for the taxpayer. Public- and private-sector prisons have comparable performance levels.”

About Winnie Agbonlahor

Winnie is news editor of Global Government Forum. She previously reported for Civil Service World - the trade magazine for senior UK government officials. Originally from Germany, Winnie first came to the UK in 2006 to study a BA in Journalism & Russian at the University of Sheffield. She is bilingual in English and German, and, after spending an academic year abroad in Russia and reporting for the Moscow Times, Winnie also speaks Russian fluently.

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