`Your objectives were achieved'

THE PRISONS DEBACLE
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This is an edited version of the letter from Derek Lewis to Home Secretary, Michael Howard

Dear Michael,

I am responding to your statement given to the House this afternoon ...You said that you accepted the general thrust of the [Learmont Inquiry] report but that the criticisms in it ... made my position untenable. You proposed that we should both agree, and that you should report to the House today, that it would be in the best interests of the Prison Service for me to give up the director generalship at the end of this calendar year ...

I must reiterate the circumstances and basis on which I was appointed by your predecessor, Kenneth Clarke.

He and others had identified severe weaknesses in both the performance and the operation of the Prison Service ... To address those fundamental weaknesses, it was decided to give the service agency status and appoint a new director general ... On my arrival, it was clear that the extent of the performance, organisational, structural and cultural weaknesses were far greater than had been described to me ... It was also clear that achieving the fundamental changes and turnaround required would be a matter requiring many years' work - no less than fivefrom the time I was asked to take on the job. ...

Any assessment of our performance over the last two years must also take into account the fact that the service achieved all of the objectives that you personally set for us last year and all but one of the objectives set by your predecessor in the first year ...

None of that under- estimates the extreme seriousness of the escapes from Whitemoor and Parkhurst [jails], but ...there is a need for performance to be considered "in the round"...It is significant that so many of the Learmont recommendations represent action that has already been taken, was already firmly planned or was proposed to the inquiry by the Prison Service.

I have considered your suggestion in the context of this and against the background of the unanimous confidence expressed in my leadership by the whole board ... I was, therefore, unable to accept your proposal that I should resign ...

Whitemoor and Parkhurst have both been severe blows and embarrassments to the Prison Service, which the service has been determined to put right. What the service most needs at this juncture is continuity, consistency and genuine ministerial support. It is a matter of great regret that you have not chosen to give it that support ...

Yours sincerely

Derek Lewis

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