Tory backbencher floats the concept of charity-run prisons

Guy Opperman, the MP for Hexham, tells Westminster Hall debate that this should be the next step for public sector reform of the prison system

Guy Opperman
Guy Opperman

A Conservative backbencher has told MPs that the "next step for public sector reform of the prison system" should involve charities taking over prisons.

Guy Opperman, MP for Hexham, was speaking in a Westminster Hall debate on Wednesday, called by fellow Tory MP Mark Pritchard on prison education and welfare services.

Opperman asked Pritchard if he agreed that "we should be looking into the idea of an academy prison, whereby the whole prison is run by a charity or altruistic institution?"

Opperman said: "The current model is either state or private, whereas in schools we have transformed education by the provision of academies that are outwith the state or private institutions.

"Surely, the next step for public sector reform of prisons should be the charity not just providing the education within a small segment of a prison, but taking over the whole prison itself."

Opperman later asked Jeremy Wright, the parliamentary under-secretary of state for justice: "Does the minister accept the potential for alternative providers for an individual prison?"

Wright did not rule out the possibility. "It is not so much who provides the prison accommodation that matters, but what they provide and the support that goes with it," Wright said.

"It is important that we look at every potential provider of prisons to ensure that they can provide for us not just a secure environment, but one in which rehabilitation can be achieved."

MPs taking part in the debate praised charities including the Henry Smith Charity, the Prisoners’ Education Trust, Samaritans and the Shannon Trust for their work within prisons.

Charity involvement in the running of prisons has been controversial. In 2011, Kevin Curley, Third Sector columnist and then chief executive of local infrastructure body Navca, said that working with the private sector to operate prisons "doesn’t fit with our values".

In 2012, Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said that charities that were involved in running prisons should have their charitable status revoked.

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