Letter: True cost of jail escapes scrutiny

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Sir: The Home Office's contention (report, 26 August) that the privatised Wolds prison is cheaper to run than comparable state prisons cannot be allowed to pass without comment.

There are good reasons to believe that the Wolds would be relatively cheap to run, quite apart from its privatised status. It is a new, purpose-built complex, designed by the Prison Service to be cost effective. Sophisticated levels of security mean that fewer staff are required to supervise prisoners. Unlike the majority of prisons, it does not require expensive refurbishment.

However, as HM Chief Inspector himself concluded, the real cost to the taxpayer of the Wolds is uncertain. The contract with Group 4 leaves some of the financial arrangements unresolved. There is uncertainty over who will pay for the damage caused during the (not infrequent) disturbances by Wolds prisoners. Responsibility for utilities such as gas and water, currently paid for by the Home Office, is in question.

Moreover, as Judge Stephen Tumim found, the Prison Service has signally failed to establish adequate procedures to monitor the contract with Group 4. Judge Tumim reports his surprise that no payments in default had been required, despite the delayed introduction of the library service and the continued absence of a bail unit. In these circumstances, there is a danger of public money being wasted.

The costings produced by the Home Office cannot therefore be relied upon to give a true picture. It may be that Group 4 is providing a cheaper service than would the Prison Service, if only by employing fewer staff (with the consequent impact on the level of activity in the prison). But until proper monitoring procedures are put in place, we cannot know whether privatisation is producing the savings predicted by ministers.

Yours faithfully,


Deputy Director

Prison Reform Trust

London, N1