Leading Article; Howard escapes justice again

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

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour leader Ed Miliband unveils Labour's pledges carved into a stone plinth in Hastings  

Election 2015: Smash the two-party system! Smash the voting system!

Armando Iannucci
Tactical voting is a necessary evil of the current first-past-the-post system, where voters vote against what they do not want rather than in favour of what they do  

Election 2015: Voting tactically has become more fraught in new political order

Michael Ashcroft
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power