Prison area managers face shake-up

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The Independent Online
The prison service is planning a shake-up in its management after the recent spate of security embarrassments. This disclosure follows a damning critique of management by one of the most senior officers in the prison service - Brian Landers, its finance director. He described prison service management as "totally inadequate" in a leaked memo he had written to the Prison Board.

A prison service spokesman confirmed that the structure of its management was under review, and in particular the role played by area managers. He confirmed the authenticity of the memo written by Mr Landers and leaked to Channel 4 News.

He said the paper, which is dated 13 January, was written as part of the review. "I wouldn't want to comment on how embarrassing the leak is or not," the spokesman said.

The leak coincided with claims of yet another security lapse following the discovery of a highly sensitive internal security manual from Parkhurst prison in a public bar.

An investigation was announced yesterday but prison service officials denied that it was a breach of security.

In the memo, which is blunt and outspoken, Mr Landers condemns the prevailing quality of management and reveals serious disagreements among the most senior staff over possible solutions. "We are simply not speaking the same language," he writes. In his view, his colleagues spend too much time on "policy advice" and not enough on operational issues.

He is highly critical of prison governors; but he reserves his harshest words for the area managers - the officials who supervise the governors.

He goes on to ridicule proposals made by other service directors to improve the performance of area managers: "Nor, especially, can it be done as [one director] seems to imagine, by sitting in a London office reading performance reports . . . It requiresactive management."

He warns that for the quality of area management to improve, many of those currently employed in that role would have to replaced. He complains that at the moment they do not manage, are not expected to manage and do not have the time to manage.

He called for area managers to carry out frequent visits to prisons, get to know senior management, take responsibility for senior appointments, have regular review meetings with senior management and personally verify policy implementation and operational performance.

Jack Straw, Labour's home affairs spokesman, said the leak proved the depth of disaffection within the prison service. "Many seasoned observers say they have never known it in such turmoil," he said.

"There has got to be a re- establishment of leadership by example. The politics of greed has been introduced and it has set entirely the wrong tone."

Stephen Shaw, of the Prison Reform Trust, said, in response to the proposals contained in the leaked memo: "I don't believe that we can simply have area managers trotting round from jail to jail, checking whether the curtains have been drawn and the locks secured, but we do want area managers who know the jails that they are managing very effectively, that they know the staff working very closely and they are able to offer support and advice to the governors in charge.

"In practice, what has happened is that the people working in prisons are not clear who is really in charge."