Tumim saves his parting shot for Howard

Penal policy: After eight difficult years, the Chief Inspector of Prisons has cleared his desk and spoken his mind
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Home Affairs Correspondent

Judge Stephen Tumim yesterday ended his eight-year stint as Chief Inspector of Prisons. A head-on clash over penal policy with the Home Secretary is said to have ended his career as the guardian of prisoners' rights and conditions.

But as he went to clear his desk on the 10th floor of the Home Office, Judge Tumim denied suggestions that the prison reform battle had been forever lost to Michael Howard's "tough, austere and prison works" agenda.

"The pendulum will swing back again," he said, adding in what will be seen as a final swipe at the Home Secretary, "It may not be until after the election, but remember, that is only a year or so away."

Judge Tumim has always publicly sought to play down the rift between himself and the Home Secretary, but sources close to the 64-year-old former county court judge said he so valued and believed in his work that he had been personally "hurt" by Mr Howard's decision not to renew his contract.

There is no doubt that the constant drip, drip of one of his critical prison reports after another - coupled with the ability to grab headlines with blunt language - had clearly annoyed the Home Secretary. Whereas previous inspectors' reports barely troubled the media, none could reject those which, for example, labelled Dartmoor "a dustbin", Brixton "a corrupting and depressing institution", and Armley "a sub-culture of self-destruction". In his eight years he has graphically detailed the appalling plight of the mentally-ill in Brixton's notorious F-Wing and of the babies of Holloway mothers not allowed to crawl on cockroach-infested floors. The Prison Service was forced to act.

But even more embarrassing for a Home Secretary, anxious to prove his tough law and order credentials, was when Judge Tumim criticised poor management, drug-ridden jails and security failings. Matters came to a head over the Parkhurst fiasco, when Judge Tumim said had written to the Home Secretary and Derek Lewis, the then head of the Prison Service, warning of lax security at the jail, only weeks before the breakout.

There is also no doubt that his relentless campaigning has vastly improved the lot of the country's 52,000 prisoners. Yesterday, Stephen Shaw, of the Prison Reform Trust, said he had been a "unique and powerful" catalyst for change, raising public awareness of conditions in many prisons.

He was tireless in his demands for more active regimes for prisoners, for more education, more work, better health care, treatment and rehabilitation programmes. He made overcrowding a dirty word. And he rightly takes credit for ending the unhygienic practice of "slopping out" by persuading the Government to introduce in-cell lavatories.

His faults, according to those inside the service, as well as out, were that he personalised the work of the 20-strong prison inspectorate too much and that he was oblivious to some key prison issues - like racism.

Judge Tumim sat on Lord Woolf's inquiry into the Strangeways riot, which adopted his humanising approach. And for a brief period, its recommendations, to take petty offenders out of jail in order to enable resources to be put into them to make them more constructive and rehabilitative, found their way into Conservative criminal justice policy. It was short-lived. Since Douglas Hurd left the Home Office in 1991, successive Home Secretaries have reversed the reforming agenda.

Judge Tumim knew he was losing influence when he was overlooked for leading the various inquiries into riots and escapes, which traditionally he has carried out. The Wymott disturbances, followed by the Whitemoor and Parkhurst escapes were all given to others to investigate.

Now, as Judge Tumim goes off to write a book, the question is who Mr Howard will appoint to take his place. There are concerns among the reform lobby, shared by Judge Tumim, that the Home Secretary may appoint a more pliable inspector. "The need for independence has to be born in mind by Ministers as by Inspectors, if the system is to work," said the judge.

What Tumim said...

March 1990, after his inspection of Brixton jail: "This is a corrupting and depressing institution, in particular for the unconvicted in the principal remand centre for London and the South East of England."

September 1991, after inspecting Dartmoor Prison: "It is not to be treated as a dustbin to hold prisoners no other institution wants to take."

January 1995, after the Parkhurst escape: "There is a lack of high morale in the Prison Service. There is a feeling - I am sure wrongly - that they are not going to cope and there is a crisis of confidence."

February 1995, on widespread drug abuse in Styal women's prison: "Women are entering as shoplifters and leaving as drug addicts."

October 1995, on the Learmont Inquiry into the Parkhurst escape: "It's the road to the concentration camp if you go too far along it and it's quite wrong. It's morally wrong."