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Scottish private prisons challenges highlighted in Parliament

5th December 2019

Community’s regional secretary for Scotland and Northern Ireland, Steve Farrell, was recently invited to give evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee, which was looking at the operation of Scottish private prisons and the wider prison estate.

During the discussion and questions Steve took the opportunity to explain the ways in which the structure of the contracts affects Community’s members, in particular the impact of fines against the operators.

“Ultimately, the bottom line is that it affects the ability to negotiate improved terms and conditions for our members. As the committee will know, the private sector’s terms and conditions are still way behind those of the public sector…I think that there is a problem with where money that is withheld from private contractors goes in the overall purse.”
Steve said he did not know where the money from the fines goes “because I have never seen that audited or detailed. GEOAmey is in line to lose £1.2 million this year. Where will that £1.2 million go? That is a fair question.”

“I would ask the Scottish Prison Service and the Scottish Government whether there is monitoring of the contracts. I say that selfishly, on behalf of the private sector. I have said for a long while that it is perverse that the Scottish Prison Service sits, in effect, with a public purse and a private purse, which causes some of the problems that have been discussed today.

“There should be independent monitoring of the two contracts. Both contracts, the GEOAmey contract and an add-on to the two prison contracts, should be reviewed, and there should be a K-factor to allow them to be reviewed consistently for simple things such as finding mobile phones. The difference between finding mobile phones in prisons in 1999 and finding them in 2019 is like that between night and day, but the contract remains the same. There needs to be a complete review of that in the contracts and an independent monitor of the contracts.”

Photo of Steve Farrell giving evidence on Scottish private prisons to the Scottish Parliament

Steve Farrell gives evidence to the MSPs

Speaking after the hearing, Steve said:

“It’s important that Community continues to pose these difficult questions of decision makers, we must ensure that the role of our members within the private justice sector is considered as important both politically and operationally as all others stakeholders within the estate.”

“Community is the only trade union that is pro-actively campaigning for the three private justice contracts in Scotland to remain operational, and for all the terms and conditions of the union’s members within the contracts to be protected and improved as we move forward.”

Community is the recognised trade union at Scottish private prisons HMP Addiewell, HMP Kilmarnock and for the GEOAmey prisoner escort contract. The union is campaigning for a Safer Justice Sector.

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