In his first report on the Wolds remand prison in Humberside, which is managed by the security firm Group 4, Judge Stephen Tumim finds much to praise but reserves criticism for the 'corrupting lethargy' of the regime.
Today's report on the flagship of the Government's prison privatisation programme is certain to embarrass the Home Secretary, Michael Howard, who is worried that jails are too comfortable.
Judge Tumim says: 'There is little work and much pottering about. They play a little pool and table tennis. If the sun is out they bask. They doze a great deal.' He suggests that the failure to occupy the 320 prisoners, who are allowed out of their cells for 14 hours a day, had contributed to a 'high' level of drug-taking.
'For many inmates, it is a wholly acceptable life and they are anxious to delay their cases coming to trial.'
The Wolds is unique in that it holds only remand inmates, who cannot be forced to work. Judge Tumim said the ethos could be changed by taking some sentenced prisoners, who can be made to participate in activities, a suggestion accepted by the Home Office.
Derek Lewis, Director General of the Prison Service, also said yesterday that 'incentives' would be offered to encourage inmates to be active. However, prison reformers conceded that the Wolds had received better marks from the Chief Inspector than most public sector jails.
Judge Tumim said the 160 staff had created a relaxed and civilised regime, and displayed 'admirable attitudes' towards the inmates. If activities could be provided, the jail 'would be a considerable advance on anything done elsewhere'.
Staffing levels came under scrutiny, with Judge Tumim suggesting that in some parts of the jail inmates had 'the upper hand'.
He was particularly concerned at the policy of leaving one officer in charge of units housing 50 men, saying that staff in such situations lacked proper support and guidance.
However, the main thrust of his criticism was aimed at 'weaknesses' in the original Home Office contract, which had omitted to specify what inmates should do during the day. He also condemned the Home Office for neglecting to develop systems for checking financial aspects of the pounds 5m-a-year contract, making it 'impossible to determine the value for money'.
Rebutting that criticism, the Home Office yesterday produced figures apparently showing the Wolds was cheaper than jails near by. The cost to the taxpayer is pounds 340 a prisoner a week, whereas Lincoln costs pounds 442 and Hull, pounds 459.
It also produced statistics indicating that Wolds inmates spend an average of 11 hours a week in work, education and sport compared with 6 hours at Durham, 7.6 hours at Leeds, and 12.9 at Moorland prison.
The civilised jail, page 3
Time for a review, page 22