The controversial scheme, put forward by Sir David Ramsbotham, is certain to cause anger among traditionalist prison officers who will object to ex-inmates returning to criticise officers' work.
But Sir David believes that reformed prisoners might be able to penetrate the culture of secrecy among inmates to get a truer picture of life in jail.
He wants to employ them on consultancy fees of pounds 150 a day. "They might be able to give us an indication of any undercurrent of bullying or how heavy the drug culture was," he said. They might also be able to help on equal opportunities issues."
The move is part of Sir David's plan to base his inspections on the expert knowledge of specialists from a variety of relevant fields.
He has already included pharmacists and social services inspectors in his teams where expert evidence was required on drugs and mother and baby units. He also wants to hire a serving or former prison officer, who could bring direct experience of jail conditions to the inspectorate.
Two former prisoners and a serving inmate have already been used as unpaid advisers. They include a man serving a life term at Kirklevington Grange jail, in Cleveland, and John Hoskison, an author and former professional golfer, who was jailed after a hit-and-run motoring incident.
Another consultant was Bobby Cummines, a London armed robber in the 1970s, who is now a graduate and full-time worker at Unlock, the national association representing ex-offenders. Mark Leech, Unlock's chairman, said last night that he was delighted by the plan. "This bold initiative marks Sir David out as someone who is genuine about wanting to reform our prison system. I am sure that ex-offenders will play their part in that process," he said.
Dr David Wilson, a former prison governor and now professor of criminal justice at the University of Central England, said: "Ex-offenders have a special insight into penal culture. This development should be welcomed by anyone who is serious about changing our prisons for the better."
But Ron Adams, a national executive member of the Prison Officers' Association, said: "To put it as diplomatically as possible, this will raise a few eyebrows among prison officers. The chief inspector's credibility is questionable now and this could damage it even more without proper consultation."
Sir David is discussing his plans with the director general of the prison service, Martin Narey. Although the chief inspector is allowed to appoint who he wishes to his team, he is anxious that his idea has the backing of the Prison Service.Reuse content