In his annual report, Judge Tumim said it was 'disappointing to find so little real improvement in the quality of life for most prisoners'.
Many of the criticisms have been levelled before, he said, pointing, for example, to overcrowding, the failure to allow prisoners out of their cells for more than short periods of time, and the lack of training for staff in preventing suicides.
He welcomed moves to provide inmates with toilets in their cells, and to improve the quality of prison food, but said: 'This . . . does not address the problem of the lack of facilities for out-of-cell activity in many establishments.'
The report was seized upon by reformers as an indictment of ministers who, they said, had failed to match fine words with action. Despite the report by Lord Woolf into the Strangeways riots calling for wide-ranging reforms, and despite a government White Paper last year promising to implement these, few funds had been found for the purpose, according to the Prison Reform Trust.
Adam Sampson, of the trust, said: 'The failure to put money behind the programme has ruined it.' He highlighted the grievance procedure as a case in point, saying the new system was an improvement - in principle. But there were too few staff to deal with prisoners' complaints, meaning that replies were delayed and bitterness was fuelled.
With the recession showing no signs of easing, and the Government pre-occupied by other matters, resources were likely to remain in short supply, reformers said. The Howard League, a penal reform group, was 'bewildered' at the failure to improve training in suicide prevention, despite '71 suicides in prisons in 1991/92 and high rates of self-injury'.
Another issue flagged by Judge Tumim was the failure to enhance prisoners' pay, an area of concern to Lord Woolf. This 'remains inadequate', Judge Tumim said.
Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, said the report 'reflected a period of important development and change in the prison service. Inevitably, the service has progressed faster on some fronts than on others'.