Inspector attacks plan to privatise 'failing' jail

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The chief inspector of prisons has made a scathing attack on the Home Office minister Paul Boateng over his proposed privatisation of a prison identified as the worst in the country.

The chief inspector of prisons has made a scathing attack on the Home Office minister Paul Boateng over his proposed privatisation of a prison identified as the worst in the country.

Sir David Ramsbotham turned on Mr Boateng and other jail chiefs for having "failed" Brixton prison in London and expressed doubt that any private firm would want to take it on.

Sir David's attack, in a letter to Brixton's Board of Visitors, comes as a damning report by the Prison Service's own race adviser found the jail was institutionally racist and some staff "sustained and promoted overtly racist behaviour".

Black prisoners were told by some staff to "go back to Africa" and other inmates were denied religious requests for a pork-free diet. The report said staff set up an unauthorised punishment programme, called "Reflections", denying them contact with other inmates.

The director general of the Prison Service Martin Narey, who has forwarded the report to the Commission for Racial Equality - which is considering a formal investigation into prison racism - admitted Brixton was "a bad example but it is not alone".

Brixton prison was shamed by Mr Boateng last July when he decided it should be the first jail to be offered for privatisation. But in his letter, the chief inspector complains that Mr Boateng "scuppered" plans to turn the prison around. He said the minister did not consult him over his decision, even though Sir David had inspected the jail only 11 days earlier.

The chief inspector's comments come as his inspection report on Brixton is before the Home Secretary. A leaked version of the report reveals "no one escapes criticism from management to some staff and HQ". But the leaked document says that the Chief Inspector had told Brixton staff that "he was not looking at a Wandsworth or a Wormwood Scrubs" - the two prisons that he has most fiercely criticised.

In his letter, Sir David says: "In [my report] you will see that I say that I do not think that Brixton is not only a failing prison but it is also a failed prison, to the extent that it has been failed by ministers and by the Prison Service for too long."

The chief inspector visited Brixton in June, seven months after Mr Boateng had told the prison's staff that they had 12 months to improve or face privatisation. After the inspection, Sir David's team met senior staff at the jail and recommended a "co-ordinated action plan" for the prison. Two weeks later, Mr Boateng returned to the jail to say the prison must be market tested.

Sir David complains: "This [action] plan was scuppered by the minister unilaterally... I am not sure quite what criteria he used for declaring it a failing prison when he had not seen the report."

Early next year, the Prison Service will decide whether to give Brixton to a private company or allow the jail to remain in the public sector.

In his letter, Sir David said: "I cannot see any private sector company volunteering to run Brixton unless and until it is provided with the resources needed to deliver a satisfactory regime."

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