Minister offers to quit over Scrubs

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The Independent Online
A MINISTER and the head of the Prison Service have offered to resign unless Wormwood Scrubs jail, which will be condemned in a scathing report on Monday, is overhauled within the next year.

Lord Williams, the prisons minister, and Martin Narey, the director-general of the Prison Service, have both said they will step down if the former flagship jail in west London could not be "turned around" within 12 months. They admit their "heads are on the block".

The move follows a damning report by Sir David Ramsbotham, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, who has condemned major management flaws and criticised the power of the prison officers' union at the jail.

The report, to be published on Monday, will highlight concerns about the segregation unit, which neither the governors nor the Board of Visitors were allowed to enter without giving officers advanced warning.

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, is expected to criticise the state of affairs at the prison on Monday.

Wormwood Scrubs was thrown into chaos this month when the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced that 25 prison officers were being charged with alleged assaults on inmates. More than 200 inmates have been moved out of the jail and 24 officers and a female governor have been suspended.

The jail is becoming a battleground between the Prison Officers' Association (POA) and the Home Office and Prison Service which believe the union has too much influence over the running of the country's jails.

Sir David's report is understood to be particularly critical of how the segregation unit - which is at the heart of many of the assault allegations - was run. Visitors, governors, and inspectors had to phone ahead to the prison officers before they were allowed into the unit.

Governors at the jail are said to have been fearful of challenging the POA because they believed the Prison Service area managers would back out of a confrontation that could lead to industrial action by the union.

Medical treatment at the prison is also criticised, and Sir David suggests that unless improvements are made the jail should be privatised, although the Home Office is understood to have ruled this out.

Sir David is said to be furious that little has changed in the two years since he last visited the jail, when he described it as "dead in the water".

The state of affairs at the jail "is what comes from year after year of sticking your head under the duvet," said a government source.

Since the criticisms, a new management team has been appointed. The prison inspectorate will be sent into the jail within the next year to ensure progress is being made.

Government sources believe the POA has "shot itself in the foot" with its response to criticisms. Ron Adams, the union's vice-chairman, described some inmates as "scum of the earth". The POA has also said the CPS was involved in a "conspiracy" to prosecute its members.

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