The commodification of detention incentivises mass incarceration
Credit: Darren Johnson/iDJ Photography
Europe’s security industry is gathering in London for a two-day summit next week. The event, hosted at the Tower of London, is trying to use a guise of promoting progressive reforms and improving care for people in detention facilities or the prison system, but a closer look at the agenda and list of participants reveals that it is really about how to make more money out of peoples’ misery.
You wouldn’t know it from the glossy publicity, but private security companies such as G4S will be attending the £1500 per head European Custody and Detention Summit (ECDS) to forge lucrative business deals.
In reality, this is a trade fair for security firms, prison builders and arms companies to expand and further privatise the UK’s border controls and criminal justice system. It is a space for a whole range of other private companies wanting to move in to the increasingly profitable business of mass incarceration.
The publicly available materials of the event says very little about the commercial nature of the event, but the privately available agenda which we managed to obtain a copy of, lays bare the greed and profits underpinning this event.
Not only do they state that “making business connections is one of the reasons why ECDS is the go-to event within the custody and detention sector”, they offer corporate attendees the opportunity to “forge lucrative partnerships and collaborations for business” and “find potential clients to buy your services and products”. If that wasn’t enough to entice potential businesses to this trade fair, attendees are also offered the chance to “broaden your personal network to advance your career.”
This all makes a mockery of claims that this event is about promoting best practice in caring for detainees.
While private security professionals are able to advance their career and line their pockets from handsome business deals, the UK is locking up over 30,000 asylum seekers every year in detention centres across the country as part of an increasingly aggressive approach to migration that militarises borders and criminalises refugees.
From building walls in Calais to running immigration detention centres, there are endless opportunities for companies to make money out of Europe’s migrant crisis. These private security companies have spent recent years helping to build Fortress Europe’s deadliest ever borders; borders which have resulted in 2016 becoming the most fatal year for people in the Mediterranean.
This year, 4,000 people have already drowned while desperately trying to reach safety in Europe. Meanwhile the value of Europe’s border security market has grown to an all-time high of €15bn. People fleeing war, poverty and persecution have been marketised to become a fast growing industry and a fantastic business opportunity for some.
It is at events like this one that business relationships are forged and deals made. That’s why it is attended and supported by some of the world’s major security and arms companies. One company whose logo appears on the brochure listed as a former sponsor is Thales, an arms company who are one of the major beneficiaries of the rapidly growing border security industry, including recent contracts to provide security facilities at Calais camp and Eastern Latvian border.
Despite such toxic associations, organisers of the summit have attempted to improve the public image of the event by foregrounding speakers from penal reform and detainee support organisations. But the inclusion of multinational private security firm G4S on the line up of speakers makes a farce out of this move given G4S’s shocking record in running detention and prison facilities.
There are hundreds of complaints against the company every year from detainees, and they were famously accused of responsibility for the death of Jimmy Mubenga, after G4S guards restrained him during a forcible deportation in 2010.
The security industry needs events like this summit to legitimise and whitewash their controversial business. Which is why it is more important than ever that we see clearly what the true nature of this event is. The UK locks up the highest proportion of people in private prisons than any other country in the world, and the majority of immigration removal centres in the UK are run by private companies for profit.
Allowing custody and detention to become viable business opportunities reduces accountability within the immigration and criminal justice system. A clear example of this was the Home Office’s refusal to provide information about abuses taking place in the Yarls Wood detention centre due to fears of ruining the ‘commercial interests’ of Serco, the company running the centre.14
Even worse, the commodification of prisoners and detainees creates profit incentives to keep ever more people incarcerated. When companies are paid set rates per person they keep in detention it becomes inevitable that more people will be drawn in to systems of imprisonment in order to keep the industry thriving.
Moreover, as a matter of principle the state’s ability to restrict people’s liberty is not a function that should be contracted out to the highest bidder. The commercialisation of the mass incarceration of people must end.
Aisha Dodwell is a campaigns and policy officer at Global Justice Now, where this blog originally appeared
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