Commercial Crime Control and the Electronic Monitoring of Offenders in England and Wales

By Paterson, Craig | Social Justice, Fall-Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

Commercial Crime Control and the Electronic Monitoring of Offenders in England and Wales


Paterson, Craig, Social Justice


SINCE THE 1980s, THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT HAS ACTIVELY PROMOTED THE ROLE OF the private security industry within the criminal justice system. Privately run prisons, young offender institutions, and secure training centers for children aged 12 to 17 years old are now acknowledged components of the criminal justice landscape. Added to this, new immigration detention centers have been opened by commercial organizations to supplement their crime control interests and to create a broader market in incarceration. The electronic monitoring (EM) of offenders and, more recently, those subject to immigration controls represents another growth area m public-sector privatization and the extension of commercial forms of social control into domestic spaces. First used in 1989, over 16,000 people are now subject to a variety of forms of EM across England and Wales. Those subject to EM-based programs include bailees, adult offenders, juvenile offenders, terrorist suspects, those subject to immigration controls, and, potentially in the near future, those who refuse to pay child support. EM represents an expanding market, grounded in criminal justice privatization, that permits a much more diffuse future vision of social regulation and control.

Many of the business areas where commercial criminal justice in England and Wales now flourishes are based upon original developments in the United States (Newburn, 2002) that have inspired the development of new commercial crime control markets across the globe. EM is now used in Canada, Taiwan, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Portugal, Italy, Argentina, Israel, and Scotland. Commercial crime control is an international business and EM, alongside other "techno-corrections," has become part of a global corrections-commercial complex (Lilly and Knepper, 1992). The processes of globalization have prompted a period of reconstruction within many Western governments through which the state sheds many of its peripheral functions to the commercial, voluntary, and statutory sectors. Across Britain, this growth has ensured that the private security industry now provides services to the value of 4 billion [pounds sterling] per annum to the public and private sectors and employs approximately 500,000 people (SIA, 2006).

This article looks at the role of the commercial sector as service providers of EM. It reviews the history of EM and debates about the nature of security in relation to the struggle for sovereign control over populations and territory. Then it focuses on the way in which private security firms have become part of a new commercial-public hybrid mode of subcontracted sovereign governance through which the state generates the market space for commercial organizations to enter the crime control system. Subsequently, the article outlines how multinational corporations have come to dominate the commercial markets in technocorrections and incarceration. In the case of EM, Premier-Serco and Group 4 Securicor have isolated their competitors through the creation of a commercial duopoly. This raises questions about the procurement process within the realm of commercial crime control, in particular, about how commercial-public hybrids balance cost-effectiveness and the pursuit of profit with the delivery of a high-quality service. This brings up the issue of the future role of the commercial sector within the criminal justice system, particularly with the recent introduction of "contestability" into the National Offender Management Service (NOMS).

A Brief History of EM

The growth of the private security industry in the period after World War II and within criminal justice since the beginning of the 1980s arose as the result of rising demand for security alongside the growing importance placed upon the economic rationalities of crime control (Garland, 1999; Feeley, 2002). The end of the Cold War in 1989 provided a further boost to the industry as private security companies were accompanied by defense contractors keen to maintain profit margins in the absence of a clearly defined threat against the Western world. …

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