Public locked out: FOI won’t cover private prisons

Despite being paid for by the public, prisons operated under government contract by private companies such as Group 4 will not be covered by a proposed extension of the freedom of information act. This marks a dangerous shift in which public services paid for by us are no longer accountable to us because they have been outsourced to a private company.

This was re-stated in a minister’s written answer yesterday in parliament.

10 Nov 2009 : Column 218W

Prisons: Freedom of Information

Philip Davies: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice whether he has plans to extend to private prisons the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. [298646]

Mr. Wills: On 16 July, the Government published the response to its consultation on extending the Freedom of Information Act by means of a section 5 order. It noted that it was not minded to include private prisons in an initial order. However, the Government have made it clear it intends to keep the extension of the Act under review.

6 Responses to “Public locked out: FOI won’t cover private prisons”

  1. Paul Clarke says:

    I can think of a few potential excuses (if not reasons) behind this: lack of realistic public interest; security concerns; or the old favourite about it being difficult to make such information provisions work across contractual/commercial barriers.

    What’s the best route to dig further into this (non) answer to find out at least which of these – or any other – might be being cited.

    The issue over information restrictions across commercial relationships is of particular concern in relation to the various free-the-data initiatives that abound. Much of the really useful operational stuff is managed on behalf of govt by commercial organisations who may well be constrained by the letter of their contracts from being as free to share as both parties may actually want.


  2. Good spot Heather.
    Maybe we need to push some FOI requests to the prison service on the operation of private prisons if only to provide concrete examples of needless secrecy.

  3. John L Bell says:

    The current Secretary of State for ‘Justice’ in this Fraudsters’ Parliament will be gone at the next election!
    This wouldn’t be a little pre- election attempt to secure a bolthole for ex-MPs now that the European Parliament seems to have slammed a few doors in their face!
    ….. On the board of one of the private prisons!…. no FOI Act!…. nice little earner out of public view! …. no questions asked!
    Should we be seeing a not inconsiderable number of MPs in these prisons… on the OTHER side of the cell doors? ….or is the Fraud Act 2006 just someone’s….. lost homework?

  4. Michael says:

    Everything becomes commercial, even the prison.

    Prison break.

  5. Nick says:

    Ironic, really, that Reform’s agenda of a wider spread of providers of public services would therefore lead to less public access to information, just as they give you an award for your FOI work!

    (Not really a shift, though. Private companies providing public services – like Network Rail – have been outside the scope of FOI since it started.)

    There are ways round this, mind. If private sector organisations are required to hold information because of their contracts with the sponsoring public sector body, that information can be deemed to be “held” by the public sector body, and thereby FOIable.

  6. LIZ MACDONALD says:

    I would be keen to know of anyone who has tried to find info about a named person who has spent time any private prison in England or Wales. as I have been blocked and referred to Home Office who are being tardy in answering. I want to find a body of people who are prepared to support me in my campaign to get private prisons included in FOI access.Phil Chamberlains comment above suggets we push this and I would appreciate any reaponses sent to me, which I would keep in total confidence. Please send to me at [email protected],
    if this site permits this.

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