'Prisons Are Run Better By Private Firms'
Private firms are better at running prisons than the public sector and all jails should be subject to open competition, according to a think tank.
The Government would be wrong to limit the role of private companies within prisons to small contracts, such as maintenance and catering, right-wing group Reform said.
Ten out of 12 privately-managed prisons have lower re-offending rates among offenders serving 12 months or more than comparable public sector prisons, a report by the group found.
Researcher Will Tanner, who wrote the report, said: "Twenty years of private prisons have created an effective market which is ready to grow.
"Evidence shows that a greater role for the private sector will advance the 'rehabilitation revolution' which ministers want to deliver."
Private firms have been managing prisons since 1992, but in November last year Justice Secretary Chris Grayling signalled a move away from wholesale privatisation as he decided four prisons, including G4S-run HMP Wolds, should be run by the public sector.
Two contracts to run five prisons - Acklington and Castington, which have since formed Northumberland prison, and three in South Yorkshire - will proceed to the next stage of the competition with an announcement expected next spring.
Mr Grayling said private firms will be brought in to all public prisons to run maintenance, resettlement and catering to save up to £450 million over six years.
Policy groups, including Reform, said the decision amounted to the end of competition for prison management between the public and private sector, although Mr Grayling insisted it did not rule out further prison-by-prison competitions in the future.
The report found 12 out of 12 private jails performed better than the public sector at "resource management and operational effectiveness", while seven out of 12 were better at "reducing reoffending".
However, seven out of 12 public prisons performed better than private jails at "public protection".
Justice Minister Jeremy Wright said: "Reoffending rates across the entire prison estate are too high and we are pressing ahead with major reforms to tackle this unacceptable problem.
"And let's be clear, there has been no U-turn on the use of prison competition.
"The cost of running our prisons is too high and must be reduced.
"The recent competition process identified a new approach for reducing costs and improving services aimed at reducing reoffending at a faster rate involving the private sector."
But Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "When the Government is trying to get to grips with unacceptably high reoffending rates and the pressing need to reduce costly prison numbers, is it sensible to open up to market forces and risk growing vested interests?
"In businesses terms, surely the aim is to shrink not expand the market.
"This report's selective use of data masks mixed results - some private prisons have proved innovative and effective but others have been criticised by the chief inspector for their very high staff turnover, tendency to cut corners, and weaknesses in security.
"In the main, private jails are more overcrowded and less safe than public prisons.
"Proportionately we hold more people in private prisons than anywhere else in Europe and even more than in the USA.
"Until, and unless, there's clear objective evidence to show that this is a good direction to take, government ministers should be very wary about further privatisation."