Jail conditions dreadful, says chief inspector

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The prisons inspector warns that conditions in some jails are as bad as a century ago, and as numbers of inmates rise, standards are falling, reports Jason Bennetto, Crime Correspondent.

The Chief Inspector of Prisons has launched an outspoken attack on conditions in jails which he says are collapsing because of pressure from overcrowding and lack of funding.

Sir David Ramsbotham has recommended Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, to carry out an "urgent examination" of the entire prison system. He said some of the conditions were what he would expect in jails in the last century and that standards were dropping below the minimum promised by the Prison Service.

He said: "I must voice my concern that, to continue to cut resources while the prison population climbs inexorably higher, is in danger of becoming a process of reductio ad absurdum [reducing it to a farce]."

The sweeping criticisms of the system are some of the most outspoken comments yet made by Sir David, who is the country's most senior inspector of prisons.

The comments follow a report published yesterday following an unannounced visit in March to Lincoln adult prison for convicted adults and people on remand.

He said that staff on the wing for 200 unconvicted prisons awaiting trial were "clearly demoralised and no longer believed that they were in control of the landings".

The centre were inmates spent their first night was in a "dreadful state", with ripped and stained mattresses, and encrusted food on the walls and ceilings. Sir David commented: "You begin to wonder in which country, and in what century, what is described is being allowed to take place. When you realise that it is England in 1997 you feel angry that this is being tolerated."

He said prison managers "must feel extremely concerned about the future, in many other prisons, as numbers continue to rise."

The prison population in England and Wales has continued to go up again and currently stands at a record 63,000. The Government made an emergency payment of pounds 44m earlier this year to help cope with overcrowding.

A Prison Service spokesman said: "There has been an awful lot of improvements in the past five years, such as the ending of slopping out and expansion of workshops. Staff have been incredible in the way they have dealt with the problems."

In response to the criticism of Lincoln, Richard Tilt, director general of the Prison Service, said: "We accept that this is a critical report identifying some real problems in an elderly local prison facing severe population pressures within a tight budget. However, many of the problems identified in the report have been tackled."