Chief jails inspector attacks `boot camps'

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The Chief Inspector of Prisons, Sir David Ramsbotham, has defied the Home Secretary, Michael Howard, by attacking Britain's treatment of jail inmates. One year after being appointed to replace Sir Stephen Tumim, Sir David has called for the prison system to do more for offenders, particularly the young.

Highly critical of the military-style "boot camps" favoured by the Government for young offenders, he said they were championed by "over-heated voices". Sir David, a former Army officer, has aired his personal views in the January issue of Reader's Digest magazine.

The article comes only six months after Mr Howard was reported to have clashed with Sir David, and to have tried to stop him publicly discussing prison policy in public.

Sir David was said to have been told that any future comments on policy should be cleared in advance with the Home Office. However, yesterday a spokeswoman from the Home Office denied there was any need for Sir David to seek authorisation. She said he was "free to say what he likes - he doesn't have to clear what he says with anybody".

In the article Sir David makes it clear that his views go beyond the detail of prison policy. He claims jails are "simply the lower loops of the spiral where things have gone terribly wrong", and identifies high unemployment, education failings, mental health care problems, and cuts in spending, as other contributing factors.