This week, 11 December to be exact, Lord Faulks answered a written question from Lord Browne of Belmont.
Lord Browne wanted to know how much it cost the Government, on average, to incarcerate a prisoner between 2011 and 2014.
Back came the answer: there has been a reduction of 17% in the overall average cost per prisoner between 2011 and 2014. The average cost at the moment is in the region of £26,000 per prisoner.
That’s good news for the French company Sodexo. It runs five UK prisons at a cost to the taxpayer of £35,000 per prisoner. A tidy profit, to be sure.
But here’s the rub. Sodexo is also in charge of probation for low/medium risk prisoners in 6 of the 21 probation areas. Sodexo is in charge of those probation services in South Yorkshire, Essex, Northumbria, Cumbria/Lancashire, Norfolk/Suffolk and Cambridgeshire/Northamptonshire. And the amount Sodexo are paid per probationer is much less- as low as £1500 per person in some cases.
The probation service trade union (NAPO) makes the sensible point that it is idiocy to pay the same company a comparative pittance for keeping someone out of prison, when they can earn over 20 times as much if the same person fouls up their probation and is recalled to prison.
Are we being unfair to Sodexo? Consider this: last March a riot broke out at HMP Northumberland. Inmates took over a whole wing. Chris Grayling claimed the cause of the riot was because prisoners were forced to work longer days. There were three problems with this explanation: one there were no similar riots at other prisons. Two, there are not actually enough jobs at the prison for the 1300 prisoners. Three, it wasn’t true. The riots were caused by staff shortages. The prison is run by Sodexo.