Letter: Exploitation by security firms

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your correspondent Nicholas Long has raised a valid point with regard to the toothlessness of the lay visitors when trying to correct deficiencies found during inspections of custody areas and prisoner transport.

I would also like to raise another worrying concern. When these services were privatised, or contracted out as the Home Office prefers to call it, my son was appointed as a prison custody officer with a company in southern England. He was contracted to work a 42-hour week, any overtime worked would be compensated for by time off in lieu. As things turned out my son and a large majority of his work colleagues ended up working anything up to 96 hours per week, a 72-hour week was considered a luxury.

When the work force asked for their time off in lieu they were told that there were not enough staff available to facilitate this. Some staff accrued weeks of "time to be taken". My son, wishing to have a family life, reluctantly resigned from his job, a job which he found both fulfilling and rewarding.

My point is this. It is hardly surprising that dreadful errors like the tragic case of Peter Austin occur when the staff are utterly fatigued from overwork. It must also be remembered that these officers also have to drive the custody vans having worked these long hours, no tachograph system is used. It is only a matter of time before another life is lost because of the working practices of the privatised prison courier/custody services.

I would join Mr Long in asking the Home Secretary to conduct a review, not only of the lay visiting procedures, but also of the working practices of the private prison custody companies.

P W L GREEN

Chestfield, Kent

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