Prison Service faces closer supervision

`Disruptive prisoners should not enjoy the same conditions as the diligent'
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The Independent Online
BY JASON BENNETTO Crime Correspondent

The Prison Service will come under greater scrutiny by the Home Secretary's staff, under new measures announced yesterday.

The move, although largely cosmetic, has been interpreted as a condemnation of the Prison Service's operations and record.

The change, along with other recommendations, also helps deflect criticism of the Home Secretary.

Michael Howard announced that one or possibly two Home Office civil servants will be deployed to monitor the Prison Service and report to him. At present only the Permanent Under-Secretary of State - the top civil servant - has that responsibility.

The "new unit", as Mr Howard described it, will continue to scrutinise the Prison Service's key targets, performance, and business plan. The unit will not examine security measures.

The enhanced role of the Home Office casts doubt on the status of the Prison Service, which is supposed to be an independent and autonomous agency.

Mr Howard also announced the setting up of a disciplinary investigation into all levels of the Prison Service, to be conducted by Sir David Yardley, the former government ombudsman.

The inquiry will determine whether disciplinary proceedings or other action should be brought against any member of the Prison Service.

The Home Secretary gave notice of a review of security in prisons throughout England and Wales. It will be carried out by General Sir John Learmont, the former Quartermaster General.

The review team will include two expert assessors, Sir John Woodcock, the author of the Whitemoor report, and a person with Prison Service experience.

The Woodcock Report makes 64 recommendations under 13 headings. They cover the need to improve surveillance and observation; to improve the control of prisoners' property and searching of their cells; to tighten up security arrangements for the transfer of inmates' property; and to improve the security arrangements for new prison construction.

The report also refers to the need to use dogs more effectively; to review the procedure for opening new prisons; to review inmate privileges; to improve staff selection and training; to improve the effectiveness of management and supervision; and to strengthen the security at Whitemoor.

In addition to these recommendations Mr Howard announced three extra measures. of his own (see panel in main report).

In the past few months, the Home Office has withdrawn some privileges at the high security unit, such as the "abuse" of access to telephones and allowing prison officers to go shopping for inmates.

Mr Howard said: "Idle and disruptive prisoners should not enjoy exactly the same regime conditions as those who are diligent and co-operative "Privileges such as additional visits or extra time out of cells should be earnt by good behaviour and lost misbehaviour."