Tumim attacks Howard on jail reform

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The Independent Online

Home Affairs Correspondent

Prison officers will be placed at even greater risk of violence, injury - and even death - by the Home Secretary's latest law and order package, the former Chief Inspector of Prisons warned yesterday.

In an outspoken attack on last week's White Paper announcing sweeping reforms to sentencing, Judge Stephen Tumim condemned as "a very dangerous doctrine" plans to abolish automatic remission and parole and replace it with continuous assessment by prison officers.

And he echoed the concerns of Lord Taylor, the Lord Chief Justice, by describing plans for minimum and mandatory life sentences for a range of offenders as a "denial of justice". It was forcing independent judges to become mere tools of the Government, he said. "It will mean overcrowding, great expense and a widening of the gap between the classes of our society rather than an attempt to help prisoners lead law-abiding lives."

Judge Tumim lost his contract as the guardian of prisoners' rights and conditions last November, because of what insiders described as a head- on clash with Michael Howard.

Yesterday it became clear that his removal had not silenced one of Mr Howard's most effective critics. He chose a book launch in London to speak out. He said: "If you are not going to get parole or remission then you might as well beat up or murder a prison officer.

"What is worrying me is that continuous assessment is going to cause extremely bad relations, allegations of racism, of favouritism, of support by officers of snoops by one prisoner against another. Nothing could be worse for prison discipline than that."

The judge rejected Government claims that the tough new measures were simply a response to overwhelming public demand for action against crime. "Everybody always says the public wants tougher treatment of prisoners, rougher treatment of prisoners, nastier treatment of prisoners.

"I don't know what the public wants, but I suspect what it wants is to see justice done."