Blunkett critical of jail holding too many prisoners

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The Independent Online

David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, expressed his unhappiness over jail overcrowding on Wednesday during his first visit to a prison.

Mr Blunkett said that holding more than 1,200 inmates at Leeds Prison, which is designed to take 770, was "trying to get a quart into a pint pot''. The Home Secretary expressed his concern that staff were facing "very difficult working conditions'' and that their efforts to reform inmates could be undermined if prisoners were not supported after release.

Mr Blunkett, whose comments on overcrowding will encourage prison reformers who were concerned he would take a hardline approach to penal issues, said it was "critical'' that the work of prison and probation staff was properly co-ordinated.

Built by the Victorians, Leeds Prison recalls those castles of the Norman Conquest. Sited on a hill, the turreted grey walls of the jail, notoriously known as Armley, look down on the modern city centre.

But the jail, which the prisons director general, Martin Narey, admitted once had a "deeply dark reputation'', has undergone a marked transformation and was specially chosen for the Home Secretary's first prison excursion.

Mr Blunkett was shown a pioneering prison workshop where inmates use computer programmes to translate books into Braille. They presented Mr Blunkett with a Braille version of the history of HMP Leeds. Running his finger over a paragraph about the criminal justice system in 1848, the Home Secretary said that his predecessors appeared to enjoy "carte blanche''. He said: "The Home Secretary does not have that any more. The Lord Chief Justice reins me in.''

Later Mr Blunkett went to Bradford to visit one of the area's hit by race rioting. Before visiting two community projects he said he had no "magic wand'' and that communities would have to make a contribution to solving their own problems.

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