Letter: Commercial and public duty in privatised prisons

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Sir: Kenneth Clarke is up to his old tricks again ('Prisoners with private means', 22 December). By citing the example of the recent privatisation of a number of remand prisons, he is trying to make acceptable the general case for privatised prisons. However, he failed to mention that remand prisons are not at all representative of penal institutions as a whole.

Remand prisons are there to ensure that persons accused of certain crimes do not try to escape or re-offend. They are not being 'punished' in the strict sense of the term, since they are presumed innocent until proved guilty. For them, therefore, it may be possible to make out a case for involving agencies other than the state in their administration.

However, the institutions where those actually convicted serve their sentences must remain the concern of the community at large, since private interests could distort the proper administration of justice. For example, supposing a particular prisoner proved to be particularly productive for the privatised institutions, it would be in the latter's interest to make it more difficult for him to obtain remission than would normally be the case. Conversely, the institution might attempt to hasten the remission of prisoners, not on merit, but because they are less productive or even downright expensive to keep.

Very few people will disagree with the Home Secretary that to create more humane conditions in prisons is a good thing. But why should this privilege only extend to those prisoners who happen to be accommodated in a private


Yours sincerely,



22 December