For some prison old-timers, the thought of the real-life equivalent of Mr MacKay, from BBC television's 's Porridge, shouting not "Oi! Fletcher!" but "Could I have a word, Norman?" will come as something of a shock.
But Sir David Ramsbotham, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, believes that if staff are prepared to show inmates more respect the risk of violent incidents will be reduced and prisoners will feel more inclined to spend their time in useful rehabilitative activity.
"One prisoner told me he found it harder to hit 'Tom' than to hit just another uniformed prison officer," he said.
Sir David has been impressed by the use of first names and "Mr" or "Miss" in the handful of privately-run prisons where relations between prisoners and staff are noticeably better than in the rest of the Prison Service.
But Bev Lord, a national executive member of the Prison Officers' Association, said that first-name terms might encourage some inmates to try "conditioning", where they ingratiate themselves with staff in order to breach security or gain privileges.
She said: "It's also important that young offenders call officers 'Sir', in the same way that schoolchildren show respect for their teachers."
Sir David's views have received some support in high quarters in the Prison Service. Martin Narey, the Head of Regimes, said: "All the private prisons call the prisoners 'Mr' or by their Christian names. That has been the biggest single factor in helping prisoners build their self-esteem."Reuse content