Although he did not attack Michael Howard personally, he left little doubt that he thought the Home Secretary, who fired him two weeks ago, was producing a generation of prisoners with nothing to lose.
The former Director General, not classed as liberal in the past, urged prisons not to give up on rehabilitating criminals.
Mr Lewis's attack follows a warning from Judge Stephen Tumim, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, on Friday that modern jail policies were "the road to the concentration camp". Both have lined up against Mr Howard's demands for stiffer sentences and General Sir John Learmont's inquiry recommendation that security be given a higher priority than humane treatment.
Mr Lewis, who is suing the Home Secretary for wrongful dismissal, told lawyers in Coventry: "We are a civilised society here and we must not allow the lynch-mob mentality to turn our prisons into uncivilised institutions."
Speaking to reporters later, he repeated his calls for ministers to stop interfering in operational decisions He warned: "The danger is we will simply hold in prison an increasingly embittered and alienated population who are less able to cope when they go out into the community and are more, not less, likely to re-offend."
Earlier yesterday Mr Howard said Judge Tumim's "concentration camp" criticism was "a rather offensive comparison".Reuse content