- Created: Thursday, 17 April 2014 21:46
- Written by James Bell
The Serious Fraud Office is currently investigating the practices of private companies Serco and G4S, while working under contract from the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) to electronically tag prisoners. This follows an audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers, which found that both companies had charged the MOJ for tagging prisoners who had either completed their sentences, been returned to prison or had died. Serco and G4S have now been stripped of these contracts and will cease to provide this service. The contract will instead be taken up in the interim by Capita, which also hopes to secure the contract in the long term, bagging itself some £400m over the initial six-year contract term. Capita itself was subject to questioning over its business practices by the Public Accounts Committee in November 2013, alongside Serco, G4S and Atos. James Bell reports.
Capita hardly has a shining record. In 2012 it caused chaos with the national court interpretation service, when it was only able to deliver translation for 58% of the cases needed. This contract was worth £42m. In 2013, it was reported that Capita cost Birmingham council ‘about £120m a year’ in a contract to carry out public services for the city. The council itself admitted it had no idea where the money had gone, or how much of it had gone. Labour Councillor John Clancy stated: ‘Nowhere is there a clear, total figure for what we are paying and what we should be paying’.
Tagging was first introduced by the Labour government via the Crime and Disorder Act of 1998, which brought in the Home Detention Curfew scheme under which prisoners could be tagged and released for the final 60 (now 135) days of their sentence. In 2002 tagging was extended by then Home Secretary David Blunkett to include people on bail, in particular young offenders, aged 12-16, whom he characterised as ‘young thugs’.
Across the UK some 100,000 people are now tagged each year. According to the Policy Exchange this costs on average £13.14 per day, per person. Capita’s projected profits presuppose a massive increase in tagging numbers. Unless Capita is also planning to start tagging dead people, this means it will be aggressively looking for new sectors to electronically monitor. This much is stated in its 20 August 2013 press release: ‘[the figure is] based on the anticipated increase in the use of tags beyond the current numbers of monitored individuals.’ This increase, the press release predicts, will be generated by ‘the expansion of services to other government departments and agencies’.
Behind this prediction there is a vision worthy of nightmare. Capita is open about its aim to tailor the service to fit other bodies, including ‘the probation services, the NHS and social care agencies’. This, coupled with an advance in technology ‘which will allow for curfew, location and proximity monitoring’, raises the question of whom the company intends to tag and why. Nor does it shy away from a further ambition. Capita plans to expand its tagging service internationally: ‘Capita will also work [...] to promote the intellectual property which underpins the service internationally’. Capita’s CEO, Paul Pindar is quoted as saying: ‘When fully live, this is expected to be the largest, single and most advanced “tagging” system in the world.’ This is typical of Capita’s plans for global expansion. Currently, the company has a bid for a ten-year, £400m contract to manage the British military estate, a bid which the British state has also given it preference for.
One new tagging project is already in the pipeline. On 9 March the MOJ announced that day release from prison is to be subject to tighter rules. Prisoners will now only be allowed to leave gaol for a specific, pre-approved reason, such as work experience, and all day-release prisoners will now be required to wear electronic tags. Prisoners with a history of serious crime will now be subject to a ‘restricted level’. They will be forced to undertake more stringent risk assessments by probation officers and ‘other professionals’, most likely employed by outsourcers like Capita.
What is also clear is that Capita’s profits will increase as tagging increases, even if that increase does not amount to the projected £400m. The increased oppression of prisoners opens fertile ground for capitalists, such as Capita, Serco and G4S. Equally, outsourcers are useful for the state. They allow the state to delegate its responsibilities and to absolve itself from blame as the inevitable atrocities of British capitalism surface.
The state’s capacity to distance itself from the murderous repercussions of its punishment agenda is starkly demonstrated by the racist killing of Jimmy Mubenga, who was violently restrained during his attempted deportation to Angola in October 2010. After an inquest in 2013 returned a verdict of unlawful killing, three G4S guards have now been charged with manslaughter. It is quite right that these three should be prosecuted, but so too should the Chief Executive of G4S and all those in the Home Office responsible for contracting G4S to carry out deportations. None of these people will be punished and they will be free to commit more crimes with impunity
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 238 April/May 2014