This article in yesterday's Financial Times http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/c7d7d808-7918-11dd-9d0c-000077b07658.html reported that charities are forming consortiums with private companies to bid for new prisons in the UK.
Already NACRO has joined forces with Group 4 Securicor (G4S) and Rayner Crime Concern is teaming up with Serco. Apparently this is so that "involvement of the voluntary sector at an early stage in design and management of new jails would help improve conditions and effective resettlement of inmates" according to NACRO's Paul Cavadino. Previously charaties occasionally subcontracted things like resettlement and drug rehabilitation.
Of course this is presented as far more humane than just letting the private companies run prisons like they already do in 11 across the country. But privately run prisons are on average run worse than public sector ones and are overcrowded so why let the private sector be involved at all, if we assumed that the involvement of charities was a good thing in prisons surely this could be done in the public sector?
The article gives the game away later on when it says "Ministers believe that such building and operational models will make it politically easier to push ahead with the prison-building programme." Exactly, PFI has become so unpopular because it is a disaster waiting to happen (or alreayd happening in many places), and the involvement of charities is meant to make it seem all cute a cuddly and safe.
But there is a further question of whether charities should be involved at all. In my opinion charaties are not fully accountable to the public, but they're seen by some people as more responsive than a state bureaucracy. However, NACRO for example gets over 80% of funding from the state, so its hardly independent in that manner of it. But aren't charities supposed to have stated aims that they abide by that are supposed to guide them and in this way be accountable? NACRO's says nothing about running prisons - the nearest you get is helping people after they've been in prison to resettle.
Far better would be some form of local democratic control over prisons and indeed the whole criminal justice system.