Letter: Prison vision was a "mirage"

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The Independent Online
From Ms Mary Honeyball

Sir: Possibly the most depressing aspect of the reports on prison overcrowding and the announcement of the building of another new privately-run jail ("£35m jail planned as crisis grows", 30 March) is that nobody has mentioned the Woolf Report that was published following the Strangeways disturbances.

Lord Woolf presented, with very clear recommendations, a picture of a prison system that could cope constructively with the demands the courts would place upon it. It would be progressive, secure and rehabilitative. Prisoners would be contained but they would be legitimately occupied and their successful release and reintegration into our communities would be at the forefront of the Prison Service's work.

Sadly, this vision now appears to have been no more than a mirage and it is now apparently lost from our view. Each new initiative recently announced from the Home Office for the Prison Service to implement moves incrementally away from ambitions of the Woolf report, and usually increases rather than eases the burden on prison governors and wardens.

Drug abuse is to be combatted by a "clampdown" and random testing rather than diversionary occupations of work, training and education; home leave (a prisoner's opportunity to secure a foothold on the outside before leaving jail) is being drastically reduced; and overcrowding, perhaps the most likely trigger of prison riots, is being addressed not by announcements to reduce the remand population, or screen out the mentally ill or the fine defaulters, but by building more private prisons. We are not short of answers to our current difficulties in the prison system, we are just short of the will to try them out.

Yours faithfully,


General Secretary

Association of Chief Officers

of Probation

London, E1