Don't take that road: EPSU warns against marketization of prison services in Denmark

(Brussels 2 March) The European Federation of Public Services Unions (EPSU) wants to send a signal of warning about the plans of privatisation announced in Denmark.

Media reports about Danish government’s plans to privatise prison services are rightly worrying EPSU’s Danish affiliate OAO.

Privatising parts or all operation of prison services has been on the agenda since the early 80s. In the European Union, the UK is the only country that has fully privatised the finance, design, construction and operation of 11 prisons, others as in France or Germany have resorted to public private partnerships. In most EU countries, public services remain in public hands, but amid EU-wide coordinated public spending cuts, governments may well be tempted to put prisons on the market. There are many ways of improving prison services and the justice system in general, none through the involvement of private companies.” EPSU General Secretary Carola Fischbach-Pyttel said.

EPSU reminds that there is no evidence that privately-run prisons are doing any better than public prisons, be it in terms of cost or quality of confinement. From the experience of EPSU’s affiliates in England and Wales, privatization:
- breeds more prisoners, increases overcrowding and recidivism.
- lowers standards on basic pay, working time, sick pay, holidays, pensions
- does little for innovation
- increases cost for taxpayers
- undermines European prison rules which recognise that prisons services shall be the responsibility of public authorities, and that staff should have public service status

A recent study comparing public to private prisons in the US has found that privately run prisons are not more cost effective compared to publicly run prisons. “In other words, privatisation is only good for “marketeers”, it is bad for staff, for prisoners, for tax payers and society at large. There is something inherently wrong with making money from the use of force (as a last resort) and incarceration . There is an urgent need to develop a vision for criminal justice systems based on a progressive public sector ethos rather than the needs of the marketplace.” Mrs Fischbach-Pyttel added.

Public-private partnerships do not offer higher guarantees either. A study commissioned by the French government in 2009 finds that the lack of reliable data does not allow to conclude that delegation to private companies makes prison services any cheaper or any better. EPSU wonders why would it be any different in Denmark, or any other European country.

In 2007, the Estonian government decided not to privatise prisons on the ground that it would not save tax payers’ money. Earlier, the Swedish government decided to keep the security of prisoners fully part of public sovereignty. EPSU fully supports OAO’s opposition to these plans and will continue to debate this topic at its prison services conference on 11-13 May in Athens.

- Above mentioned French and US reports are available here

- For more information, contact Pablo Sanchez, [>], 00 32 4 74 62 66 33

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