Letter: Privatisation of the prisons

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Sir: Nick Cohen's argument that the privatisation of prisons has killed any hope of improving conditions ('Reform goes out of the window', 26 August) is absolutely correct.

There is an uncontrolled response to crime in this country, which means that we still imprison more people than our European neighbours, and for longer periods of time. Flogging off the prisons to the highest bidder amounts to culpable negligence. It will eat up resources during the transition, and in the end it will hand over the prisons to people with a vested interest in having lots of prisoners.

Mr Cohen pointed out that the current buzz word is 'market testing'. It is sickening that they interpret the market as the private companies that stand to make massive profits out of running the prisons. These companies are closely linked, both through their personnel and financial interests, with the political administration.

The market ought to be us, the consumers who are paying for the criminal justice service, and the prisoners who suffer the prison system. If true 'market testing' were to be applied, then most of the exhaustive public consultation so far undertaken ought to be acted on. The British Crime Surveys tell us that people want a criminal justice system based on restoration, with constructive and effective penalties, and ultimately on crime prevention.

Instead, this political administration has embarked on a profligate and irresponsible penal strategy based on half-baked dogmas that deliberately ignore the everyday human misery and degradation of prison life.

They are even sending the prison service headquarters to Derby, where the staff will be cut off from regular contact with politicians and reformers. Ironically, it is one of the few cities in the country without a prison.

Yours sincerely,

FRANCES CROOK

Director

The Howard League for Penal Reform

London, N19

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