Home Office 'repeating errors' at Strangeways

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The Independent Online
STRANGEWAYS, scene of the worst jail riot in British history, could again be the centre of 'grave trouble', the Chief Inspector of Prisons warned yesterday.

Judge Stephen Tumim told the Home Office that ministers, who are spending pounds 60m of public money on rebuilding the Manchester jail, risked undermining its future by imposing 'overwhelming and oppressive' use of closed circuit cameras and double locking doors in wing corridors.

It was 'a matter of public concern', he said, that his team of inspectors found that prisoners awaiting trial were spending more than 20 hours a day in their cells and being given 'unacceptably poor' education and training.

Conditions were so bad that some men did not want lavatories in their cells. They said that they welcomed the chance to carry brimming chamber pots to slop out as it was one of the few opportunities they had to meet people.

Judge Tumim concluded his report with a blunt warning: unless ministers acted on his report they could face 'grave trouble (at Strangeways) in the future'.

His findings could deter the investors the Government hopes will bid to take over Strangeways when it 'market tests' the prison service next year. Ministers plan to ask both the private sector and the prison service to submit tenders when rebuilding work is completed in September 1993. The Home Office said that Robin Halward, the Governor of Armley jail in Leeds, would take over as governor of Strangeways and head the in-house bid.

Stephen Shaw, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said yesterday that the Home Office 'looked set to repeat the mistakes of the past'. The comprehensive inquiry by Lord Justice Woolf into the 1990 violence had concluded that prisoners had rioted because of the overwhelming sterility of life in a jail obsessed with security, but the warning was being ignored.

'Judge Tumim has shown that the prison service is a long way from achieving the just and purposeful system the Government promised,' he said.

The chief inspector reported that morale among prison officers was very low. They felt undervalued and were confused about what would happen to them after privatisation. Some were still suffering from post-traumatic stress. Officers found the new security measures oppressive. Corridors in the jail had been fitted with closed-circuit cameras and double gates with electro-magnetic locks. Anyone wanting to pass through the barriers had to speak to a central control room via an intercom.

The riot in April 1990 destroyed all but one wing of the jail. After two years of the rebuilding programme the prison which once held 1,700 had space for just 340 inmates. Until the work is finished, about 700 men who ought to be in Strangeways will be kept in police cells.

The judge said that police cell inmates were being kept hundreds of miles from their families and solicitors.

Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, accepted yesterday that the treatment of unconvicted prisoners in Strangeways needed to be improved. He rejected criticisms of the use of police cells, saying the judge had not acknowledged steps being taken to lift the burden on the police.

Dinosaur's dilemma, page 19