Prison governors must wear uniform

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The Independent Online
FOR THE first time in their century-old history, prison governors are to be made to dress in uniform to reduce simmering jealousies among jail staff.

Richard Tilt, the director general of the Prison Service, believes that making all of the 12,000 non-uniformed prison staff dress in official garb will help to heal rifts between them and prison officers.

But the move was promptly criticised by the governors, who said they would rather wear suits, and by prison reformers who feared it would put jails on a more military footing.

Stephen Shaw, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "One of the things that we have got away from is the idea that the Prison Service is some sort of military operation and any form of uniform which smacked of the paramilitary would be an extremely retrograde step."

But, writing in Prison Service News, Mr Tilt said he had gradually come round to the idea of every prison employee wearing uniform.

He said: "Ten years ago if someone had asked me, I would have said no I do not want to extend the use of uniform. I would now say that the benefits of having everybody in uniform would outweigh the disadvantages and I would be in favour of a fully uniformed service."

Prison officers have recently been resentful of what they see as a lack of support from governors over their claims for better pay and conditions.

Mr Tilt said: "I think we continue at establishment level to have stupid arguments and disputes between different `classes' of staff. It causes a lot of anguish and wastes a lot of effort, so putting everyone in uniform must be quite helpful."

The proposals could affect prison psychologists, administration staff and teachers as well as governors.

The first prison governors were established in the 1890s. They have never worn a uniform, although the 1995 report into jail security by General Sir John Learmont suggested that a fully-uniformed service might help to prevent a repeat of the Whitemoor and Parkhurst break-outs. The idea has so far been resisted, with the 1,050 governors in England and Wales preferring a business look, epitomised by actor Janet McTeer in Lynda La Plante's television drama, The Governor.

David Roddan, general secretary of the Prison Governors' Association, said: "I think that any governor who needs a uniform in order to let people know their rank isn't doing their job properly. They should be out and about in the prisons, well-known by staff and prisoners alike."

At Glen Parva young offenders' institution, reaction to the proposals was mixed. One uniformed officer said it was a good idea, claiming that some governors walked the landings in "jeans and t-shirts".

But Rob Watts, who works in the supply office, said: "I am definitely against a quasi-military uniform such as the police or army wear."

Jackie Burrows, a psychology assistant, said: "If I had to wear a uniform I would lose some of the advantages I have over uniformed staff in that the prisoners would be less likely to talk to me. It wouldn't matter what the uniform looked like, it would still be a uniform and I think I would lose the relationship I have with a lot of the prisoners."