Letter: Improvements in the prison service

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Sir: The Director of the Prison Reform Trust, Stephen Shaw, suggested (Letters, 16 February) that implementation of the Woolf Report recommendations by the prison service 'has stalled where it has not gone into reverse'. This is simply not true. Over the past year, there has been continuing major progress.

Our record in protecting the public continues to improve. Last year the number of inmates escaping from prison declined by 20 per cent.

Overcrowding has been reduced. Holding three prisoners in a cell designed for one has been virtually eliminated. In December 1991 there were 1,630 prisoners held in what should have been single cells and by last December we had reduced that number to just 57. Again, in December 1991 we had 9,668 prisoners held two to a single cell. That was down to 7,262 last December.

'Slopping out' is fast disappearing. Currently 89 per cent of prisoners have 24-hour access to sanitation, compared with 82 per cent in March 1993 and 46 per cent in March 1981. By the end of this year, the proportion will have grown to more than 95 per cent. Plans are in hand to provide the remainder with in-cell sanitation by the end of February 1996, in line with the recommendations of the Woolf Report.

These improvements have been coupled with further changes in prison regimes, to make them more demanding and constructive, while ensuring that the prison service fulfils its duty to help reduce re-offending. During last year the number of hours of work, training, education and other activities showed a further increase. The number of inmates completing the core programme for sex-offenders will have increased by about 30 per cent.

The number of prisons running anger-management courses has more than doubled to over 40. Our plans to introduce a wide-ranging programme to address impulsive behaviour are on target, with eight establishments piloting initial packages. Prison staff have played the critical role in each of these developments, while the more general work of prison officers with prisoners has been expanded through the widespread introduction of personal officers' schemes.

All of this and much more has been achieved, despite the very real additional demands imposed by the rapid rise in the prison population. Although much remains to be done, this is not a situation in which progress has either 'stalled' or 'gone into reverse'. Such a suggestion does grave injustice to staff who have worked with great commitment in often very difficult circumstances.

Yours faithfully,


Director General

HM Prison Service

London, SW1