Leading Article; Howard escapes justice again

Share
Related Topics
Michael Howard must not be allowed to wash his hands of responsibility for the serious security flaws in Britain's prisons. Sir John Learmont's report, published yesterday, describes a long-running catalogue of failure. He speaks of sloppiness in basic precautions, of widespread drug usage among inmates at Parkhurst and of a prison service "in which morale is low with ordinary prison officers feeling devastated and unfairly treated". A home secretary who has made so much political capital out of toughening prison regimes and proclaiming such a clear personal commitment to a particular approach to prison management cannot simply absolve himself when so many things go wrong.

Sir John's report, which focuses primarily on the escape of three dangerous prisoners last January from Parkhurst, describes a shambolic security system, many weaknesses of which had been previously identified by the governor and by Judge Stephen Tumim, Chief Inspector of Prisons. The man who has paid the price is Derek Lewis, director of the Prison Service. No one who reads this report will doubt that his resignation is appropriate, despite his considerable achievements over the past three years in making jails more humane and more effective.

But what of Mr Howard? Yesterday, he was condemned by Mr Lewis, who accused him of paying insufficient attention to prisons. This public rebuke must in part reflect Mr Lewis's bitterness at being forced out. But it is a serious allegation, none the less, from a senior figure who knows the inside of Britain's jails. It also chimes with Sir John's report, which suggests that too little time is being spent on the active management of prisons and too much on processing paper generated by the prison bureaucracy and the Home Office.

Mr Howard takes comfort in not having been explicitly blamed by Sir John. But the Learmont report calls for an examination of the relationship between agencies such as the Prison Service and the Home Office. This raises serious questions over the roles that the Home Secretary and his officials have played in a management structure that has proved ineffective in keeping high-risk prisoners behind bars.

The Teflon-coated Mr Howard will no doubt survive this latest barrage of criticism, just as he did last week's attack by the Lord Chief Justice over plans to curb remission for long-term prisoners.

The problem with Mr Howard's approach is that it is one-dimensional. He accepts most of the report's recommendations which directly bear upon issues of security, although he has been unable to persuade the Treasury to cough up for a new prison for high-risk prisoners. But he rejects any proposals that might blur his image as the hard man of the penal world, such as the provision of more televisions and more home leave.

This is simplistic. The provision of decent facilities in jails is not only civilised, it is part of the mechanism for controlling bored and violent people. Sir John Learmont, like the Lord Chief Justice, knows that disturbances break out when prisoners feel abused, too confined and lose hope. That produced the Strangeways riot in 1990 and the subsequent improvement of prison regimes. The irresponsible Mr Howard is turning back the clock and laying up serious trouble for his successor.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Education Editor: This shocking abuse of teachers should be taken seriously

Richard Garner
Brand loyalty: businessmen Stuart Rose (pictured with David Cameron at the Conservative conference in 2010) was among the signatories  

So, the people who always support the Tories... are supporting the Tories? Has the world gone mad?

Mark Steel
War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?