Quality, Professionalism and the Distribution of Power in Public and Private Sector Prisons

  • Ben Crewe
  • Alison Liebling


Based on the findings from a detailed study of five private and two public sector prisons in England and Wales, this chapter discusses the relative quality, professionalism and balance of power of public versus private sector prisons. Two private sector prisons appeared at the lowest end of a quality spectrum, and two at the highest end, complicating any simplistic argument that ‘private is better’. Drawing on well-validated measures of the moral and social climate of prisons, clear strengths and weaknesses were found in each sector. In particular, there were variations in the professional use of authority by staff. These differences were found even in the highest-performing private sector prisons. Distinctive power distributions, cultures and experience levels in each sector generated different types of penal order, leading to different outcomes. The evaluation, and its developmental methodology, helps to clarify our understanding of, and thinking about, prison life, quality and the effects of different forms of imprisonment. The findings suggest that some public sector strengths are overlooked in contemporary policymaking and that these strengths are at risk of being eroded as public sector prisons are remodelled as larger, cheaper and more streamlined institutions.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ben Crewe
    • 1
  • Alison Liebling
    • 1
  1. 1.University of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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