Women's prison 'starved of resources by consultants'

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The Independent Online

A women's prison is being starved of resources on the recommendation of "efficiency consultants" blamed for problems throughout the penal system, an official report said yesterday.

New Hall prison in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, where 323 women and five babies are held, and which is featured in the ITV series Jailbirds, has had to make significant cuts which are attacked as "nonsense" by the former Chief Inspector of Prisons. The report also criticises the lack of child protection procedures and social workers at the jail.

Sir David Ramsbotham, who inspected New Hall in February but has since retired from his post, makes a scathing attack on Management Consultancy Services (MCS), a special unit set up by the Prison Service to identify efficiency savings in jails.

Sir David writes: "I have now come across countless examples of where [MCS's] recommendations take no account of their impact on regimes and the treatment of and conditions for prisoners."

The report is especially critical of a recommendation to make prison staff assigned to legal duties more "flexible", so that they only do such work when they are not performing other prison officer functions.

Sir David said: "This is nonsense. Bail and legal staffs must be selected and trained and available within 24 hours of each new reception's arrival and following any request from prisoners."

Yesterday Colin Allen, the Deputy Chief Inspector of Prisons, said that New Hall was not being resourced to meet the needs of the prisoners.

He said: "The Inspectorate's concern, and this applies across the Prison Service, is the way in which so-called 'efficiency services' are identified. It is essential that any recommendations take into account the potential impact on prisoners as well as the need to make budgetary savings."

The cuts were made in spite of an inspection report on New Hall in July 1999, when Sir David said the prison was under-resourced and failing to properly look after pregnant women prisoners.

* The Prison Service spent £9,000 installing four-inch "anti-pigeon" spikes at a jail, only to find inmates could rip them off as potentially lethal weapons, it was claimed yesterday. The spikes were installed on window ledges at Albany prison on the Isle of Wight by a pest control company – but had to be removed when governors realised inmates could reach them.

The jail – which is Category B, the second-highest security rating – has 450 inmates.