Letter: Deterioration of prison conditions, public and private

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The Independent Online
Sir: It is hardly surprising that there is growing concern over the performance of the private sector in the prison service ('Escape figures cast shadow over jails privatisation', 14 February). The uncomfortable truth for the privatisation zealots of the prison service is that the private sector is performing badly.

A quarter of escapes have been from Group 4, despite them having less than 10 per cent of prison escort duties. In defence of Group 4, 'a prison service spokeswoman' says that these escape figures do not include those from police custody and that when these are taken into account the company performed 'better than average'. Most escapes from police custody occur from ordinary police cars, taxis or even public transport. For the East Midlands prison escort contract, Group 4 has more purpose-built cellular vehicles than the police and prison service have in the rest of the country.

Second, although the bald figures for the level of assaults and escapes at the privately run Blakenhurst prison are bad enough, the full picture is even worse. Blakenhurst is a new, modern prison which does not suffer from the structural problems and limitations of the overcrowded Victorian prisons that are the norm for so many of the prison service's establishments. Crucially, it is also a remand prison, without convicted lifers and so on, and therefore should have fewer problems of assault than prisons like Brixton - not four times more.

Yours sincerely,

JOHN SHELDON

General Secretary

National Union of Civil and Public Servants

London, SE1

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