Regime at Scrubs faces total reform

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The Independent Online
THE PRISON Service has drawn up a 118-point action plan to save the notorious Wormwood Scrubs jail by turning it into one of the most progressive prisons in the country.

The leaked "Wormwood Scrubs Action Plan", seen by The Independent, is a blueprint for a head-on conflict between Prison Service bosses and militant members of the jail's staff.

It warns: "Obstructive and negative attitudes will be challenged robustly and will not be allowed to block progress in any circumstance."

The rescue package follows a savage report on the jail in June by the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Sir David Ramsbotham, who suggested that the Scrubs, in west London, should be closed or privatised. The plan promises to turn around the prison's fortunes by next February, in time for a follow- up visit by the Chief Inspector.

Drawn up by the Scrubs governor, Stephen Moore, and his area manager, Peter Atherton, it is based largely on a crackdown on what Sir David described as "destructive, unco-operative and self- seeking" members of staff.

Prison officers have been ordered to stop stripping vulnerable prisoners and throwing them into bare cells. They have been instructed to return to inmates a television room and a shower area, which the Chief Inspector found they had commandeered with signs saying "For Staff Use Only".

Officers have been told they must not prevent chaplains from visiting inmates in their cells. They are also prevented from stopping prisoners taking exercise in the open air on the grounds of bad weather or staff shortages. Such decisions can now only be taken by governors.

Officers must also undergo fresh training in race relations, the treatment and searching of visitors, security matters and preventing drug smuggling.

The action plan promises to put Wormwood Scrubs on an equal footing with the privately run prisons in England and Wales, which are widely regarded as providing some of the most effective and progressive regimes.

The package of measures are designed to transform the lives of inmates, whose treatment was described by the Chief Inspector as "profoundly unsatisfactory".

Prisoners are promised at least 10 hours out of cell each weekday (currently some spend 23 hours locked up) and daily access to showers, pay phones, exercise and association with other inmates.

The number of telephones available to prisoners is to be increased and inmates are to be surveyed on their food preferences to improve the quality of the menu. The action plan also suggests managers should "actively consider" allowing prisoners to eat their meals outside of their cells.

The report, which "recognises the severe criticisms" made by the Chief Inspector, was signed off by the Prison Service director general, Martin Narey, last week,

Major changes are planned for the prison's healthcare system, particularly the treatment of mentally disordered patients, which Sir David described after his inspection as "not only clinically but also morally unacceptable and unsafe".

The action plan demands that a full psychiatric team is employed in the prison as a priority. Separate phone lines to the Samaritans should be provided in the healthcare, segregation and vulnerable prisoner units.

Other changes relate to prisoners of foreign nationality or minority faiths. Staff have been instructed not to prevent Muslim prisoners from attending Friday prayers and to provide cassette players and language tapes for non-English speaking foreign inmates when they are being told the rules and regime of the prison.