Britain sends team of experts to help Iraq rebuild its prison system

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A senior prison governor with more than 20 years experience of catering for Muslim inmates has been sent to Iraq to help redress the chaos of the country's shattered jail system.

A senior prison governor with more than 20 years experience of catering for Muslim inmates has been sent to Iraq to help redress the chaos of the country's shattered jail system.

Gareth Davies, a former Army officer with 22 years' experience in the prison system, has been seconded from Pentonville jail, north London, to British-run southern Iraq.

He heads a 12-strong team dispatched by the Home Office and Foreign Office to advise the Iraqis on running its penal system after the planned hand-over of power to an interim Iraqi administration on 30 June.

Mr Davies has said he wants the reforms he pioneered at Pentonville, one of Britain's busiest prisons, to be a model for Iraq. But he faces a formidable challenge because of the conditions in many of Iraq's jails, some of which have been requisitioned by the coalition forces. Maqil prison in Basra is being refurbished and two new jails are planned in southern Iraq.

He has been pitched into the centre of a storm sparked by accusations of brutality against inmates by American and British soldiers. There are fears that the publicity over the alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners could undermine efforts to establish a prison system that carries credibility in Iraq.

An Amnesty spokesman said: "Gareth Davies faces a mammoth job if he is to instil respect for human rights after the scorched earth policy of Saddam Hussein. He will need to lobby hard for funds for the desperately over-stretched Iraqi police force."

Previously Mr Davies had a spell in Kosovo helping to restore the former Yugoslav republic's prison service. He is seen as a reform-minded governor, undertaking pioneering work on rehabilitation and tackling drug addiction. Because about 15 per cent of Pentonville's inmates are Muslim, he is aware of the sensitivities of the religion.

But Pentonville was severely criticised by prison inspectors last year for failing to provide clean clothes and showers, and for keeping prisoners locked in their cells for long periods.

One prison source said: "He is a very old-school governor, thorough and well-respected."

Sir David Ramsbotham, the former chief inspector of prisons, said: "He understands prisoners. The refreshing thing is that he is quite open-minded about things that can be done to help prisoners return to civilian life."

A Foreign Office spokesman said yesterday: "He is advising on security sector reform, including the training of Iraqi prison officers."

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