Yesterday, I had a deeply sinister and disturbing experience. Walking down Fleet Street in central London, on a beautiful, sunny day, I stopped to cross at an intersection. A large, immaculate white van pulled up alongside me. There were loud, repeated banging sounds coming from within the van. But no sign of any face, no sound of any voice. The row of almost aircraft-shaped, vertically rectangular windows were smoked-black and impassive.
On the side of the van was just one name and logo: Serco.
Serco’s website tells us that it is an “international service company which combines commercial know-how with a deep public service ethos”. Explicit reference to the fact that it runs four UK prisons is only to be found once one digs below the blandly euphemistic, “home affairs” moniker.
Surely it is simply evil to make money out of imprisoning people, if this absolutely has to be done? How can we give private companies the right to benefit from the numbers of people handed over to their care, when this creates an incentive for them to keep more, rather than fewer people in their facilities? How can a company that makes money out of holding prisoners have any interest in their rehabilitation?
I little suspected, when watching the film Taking Liberties on the flight from Cape Town to London, that I would encounter some evidence of the erosion of a civil society it describes. A civil society does not hide the fact that it takes prisoners, if it has to take them.
I have written to Serco, asking how one can contact prisoners in their care.
Update: There was never any response to my request lodged with Serco.