Letter: Democratic role for Bentham's prisons

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Sir: Colin Welch's absurd portrait of Jeremy Bentham ('Devils that private prisons may release', 3 May) is about 25 years out of date, and it is a pity that it takes so long for the fruits of recent research to filter through to popular journalism.

The next volume in the new edition of the Collected Works, entitled Official Aptitude Maximized, Expense Minimized (to be published by OUP in July), contains several essays on the importance to representative democracy (of which Bentham was a significant early advocate) of having competent, accountable government at a minimum of expense to the electorate. That Bentham believed in privately run prisons was part of the same concern. Such a concern made him neither a capitalist nor a socialist, though both groups have claimed him as one of their own.

As for the comparison with Lenin, it is worth noting that Bentham's skeleton has never needed an armed guard, but resides cheerfully at University College London, where the values he championed in giving his body for medical research are enshrined in the high academic achievements of that institution.

Yours faithfully,


Bentham Project

University College London

London, WC1

4 May