Letter: Accounting for the ones that got away

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The Independent Online
Sir: John Sheldon reaches an erroneous conclusion in his letter about the performance of the private sector in the prison service (16 February).

In seven counties in Humberside and the East Midlands, Group 4 now provides the court and court escort service previously run by both the prison service (mainly serving the Crown Courts) and seven police forces (mainly serving the Magistrates' Courts). As more than 80 per cent of criminal cases are dealt with by magistrates, the majority of the work in which Group 4 is involved is that previously done by the police.

If comparisons are to be made between the prison service escape record and that of Group 4, then this must be for Crown Court work. Group 4 has never had an escape from a Crown Court or a Crown Court escort.

The police make extensive use of secure cellular vans of the type Group 4 use. It is the Prison Service that depends mainly on ordinary coaches, minibuses and taxis. Only about 5 per cent of Group 4 escapes have been from vehicles, the great majority of escapes have been from insecure Magistrates' Courts. These may often be ordinary rooms in municipal buildings, and frequently prisoners have to be unloaded some distance away and escorted through streets and other public areas.

It is in these very difficult conditions that the majority of court escort escapes take place, whether from Group 4 or from the police. The only accurate comparison that can be made is between the Group 4 escape record and that of the Prison Service and the police combined, since Group 4 is now undertaking the service previously provided by both.

Group 4 has had escapes in 0.038 per cent of all prisoner movements. The Home Office's best estimate of the equivalent prison/

police escape rate is 0.06 per cent of prisoner movements - nearly twice as many.

Yours sincerely,


Director of Communications

Group 4 Prison and

Court Services

Broadway, Worcestershire