Strangeways to be model for future: Riot-hit jail to give inmates more time outside cells and better food and hygiene

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The Independent Online
SENIOR Government sources are pointing to Strangeways jail, recently contracted out and due to reopen next month, as a potential model for future British prisons.

The Manchester jail is expected to offer prisoners more time outside their cells, full access to 'purposeful activities' and better standards of catering and hygiene.

Strangeways, closed by the worst rioting by inmates in British penal history, was subject to a comprehensive and hard-hitting report by Lord Justice Woolf that greatly influenced the Government's 1991 White Paper on prisons.

The standards required by the Home Office for a newly refurbished Strangeways were outlined in an invitation to tender in October last year. The contract was won last month by an in-house bid by the prison service.

Bidders were told that prisoners should expect long periods outside their cells for 'purposeful activities'. The winning bid included a proposal for prisoners to be employed making wheelchairs.

The Home Office said prisoners should also have meals served at the appropriate times, regular hot showers and suicide prevention screening. There should be proper channels for complaints and requests and ample access to telephones and visiting arrangements. The prison will hold a maximum of 1,150 prisoners when it reopens compared with more than 1,600 at the time of the riot.

The Government is keen to present a modern image of Britain's prisons. The new approach places a greater emphasis on training designed to give ex-prisoners a better chance of gainful employment.

At Latchmere House Prison in Surrey, prisoners are employed as assembly-line workers and agricultural labourers for external organisations which pay them a wage.

Prison reformers argue that many basic problems have still to be tackled. Judge Stephen Tumim, the Government's own chief inspector of prisons, said in his last annual report that inmates were still suffering from overcrowding, disgraceful living conditions and inadequate medical provision.

He also condemned the failure to allow prisoners out of their cells for longer than brief spells. He welcomed moves to provide inmates with lavatoriesin their cells and improve the quality of prison food, but added: 'This does not address the problem of the lack of facilities for out-of-cell activity in many establishments'.