More instability likely in prisons, report warns

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The Independent Online

Prisons in England and Wales could become more unstable as a result of government cuts, the Chief Inspector of Prisons warned yesterday.

Dame Anne Owers said "hidden pressures" within the "fragile" penal system. Budget cuts could also mean fewer prisoners being rehabilitated, she warned in her annual report. "As the population expands, resources are already under increased threat," she wrote. "The cuts announced for next year come on top of an already sliced budget... The hidden and incremental pressures this produces should not be underestimated."

Dame Anne, who is leaving her post after eight years, said that, overall, prisons were in better shape than when she took over the job. But she warned they were now being urged to aim for the average because of a lack of funds.

A prison service "benchmarking" process tells jails to aim for the "bronze standard" instead of excellence, she warned. This "regression to the mean" will lead to fewer work opportunities for inmates - and could demoralise staff, she said. Only four out of 34 "closed" prisons scored well in activities for inmates in inspection reports last year.

The annual report for 2008-9 also points to concerns about levels of self-harm, particularly among women prisoners. As a result of the scandal over difficult prisoners being moved between jails in advance of inspectors' arrival, more inspections will be unannounced in future, she said.