Letter: Commercial and public duty in privatised prisons

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Sir: You published an article by the Home Secretary (22 December) justifying his policy of commercialising the management of prisons. On 19 December, you reported that an inmate at the commercially managed Wolds prison was tortured ('Private jail is criticised after attack on inmate') and was 'forcibly injected with heroin and had his eyebrows hacked off by inmates'. The judge in his case said that this disclosed a deplorable state of affairs.

We will never know if the company managing this prison failed in its commercial duty to make a profit because that is kept a secret; we do now know that it has failed in its public duty to protect the vulnerable prisoners in its care.

The Howard League has been given evidence of similar cases of violence and brutality by staff and by inmates towards prisoners in some state-run prisons. Nevertheless, it is ludicrous and nave for the Home Secretary to say that selling off the management of prisons to companies whose prime concern is the pursuit of profit will offer a solution. A prisoner has been tortured in this century's first commercially run prison. There have also been disturbances,

complaints and incidents of self-mutilation.

We disagree with the Home Secretary about his political course of action because it creates a vested interest in high numbers of prisoners, wastes taxpayers' money on profits for shareholders, and, as the case of the man who was tortured shows, will not rectify the causes of violence inherent in prison.

Yours faithfully,


The Howard League for Penal Reform

London, N19

22 December