G4S has announced that it is trying to exit the UK child jails market. This follows the recent Panorama expose of child abuse by staff at one of their facilities – which we commented on here.
This is a statement from the Howard League concerning the decision of global prisons firm G4S to exit from the UK child jail market
Ideally the whole notion that providing ‘discipline and punishment’ can be something that can be delivered by the market could be ditched at the same time.
See here for our report on the killing of Gareth Myatt in a GSL run child jail in the UK in 2004. GSL was later acquired by G4S.
Why has G4S taken this decision? Here is one possible answer. To run these child jails – and the childrens’ homes which form part of the same portfolio – it is necessary to hire cheap labour. The usual problem for capitalists: to make a venture profitable they need to get high labour productivity – that means in effect more for less. For G4S this means hiring people with limited experience of working with young people, with low levels of qualifications – and then giving them a limited amount of training. For example; the guard who initiated the restraint after which Gareth Myatt lay dead in 2004 had previously worked as a leisure centre assistant. He had just a few weeks training for his new role – dealing with some of the most disturbed and troubled young people in the country. Not surprisingly perhaps these people sometimes appear to ‘lose it’ when faced with the challenges that troubled young people can pose. The guard who in the recent Panorama programme appears to place his thumb on the windpipe of a challenging young man perhaps has little empathy for troubled young people and a limited repertoire of skilled responses. In effect perhaps he was responding like a thug in the street might to a challenge from a roguish teenager. Hiring skilled and experienced staff who would understand and respond in a balanced way to challenging behaviour might perhaps quadruple the staff bill. Perhaps that is the problem. G4S thought they’d give it a try – Â the usual recipe for profit was applied – drive down your labour costs. But the consequences of that – a series of abuse scandals – are unfortunate and bad PR for their wider business. So they’ve decided to cut their losses. In the background is the horrible decision – taken by a New Labour government – to put some of the country’s most troubled young people into a ‘prison’ type environment – and to offer the contracts at a hard-nose price.
All of which should be a lesson in what happens when market economics are applied to matters of social welfare. But probably won’t be.