End to slopping out brings flush of pride


Home Affairs Correspondent.

Friday 12 April, 1996, will be remembered as one of the greatest days in penal history - the end of "slopping out" in the country's 136 jails.

As the last plastic pot was ceremoniously discarded at Armley jail in Leeds, West Yorkshire - the last prison to have flushing lavatories for all installed - penal reform groups applauded the end of the "single most degrading element of imprisonment this century".

No more queues of men and women shuffling along to empty their pots of the night's waste in the sluice rooms, no more stench and no more parcels of excrement lobbed out of windows - making the cells bearable but fouling the grounds.

Anne Widdecombe, the prisons minister, and Richard Tilt, Director General of the Prison Service, travelled to the Victorian jail on the outskirts of the city to take credit for the six year programme to install integral sanitation in all jails. "I am glad this unpleasant daily ceremony has been brought to an end at last," said Ms Widdecombe.

But the man whose relentless campaign really brought about the reform was not invited. From the moment he became the Chief Inspector of Prisons eight years ago, Judge Stephen Tumim, determined to end "slopping out". He said yesterday: "It seemed to me that you could not pursue other penal reforms without first tackling the most basic and giving people some dignity."

He commissioned a report and it was adopted by Lord Woolf who, in his review of prisons following the Strangeways riots in 1989, said it was an "uncivilised and degrading process, which destroyed the morale of prisoners and staff".

Ministers took the massive project on board and it was completed just a few weeks short of target - but no one is complaining about that, only that the issue was never tackled long ago.

The irony that Armley - built 150 years ago - was the last to convert was not lost on prison watchers. Victorian jails like Armley were actually built with sanitation systems - they were ripped out at the turn of the century to make way for more accommodation and to make life "tougher" for inmates.

"This is a very welcome return to Victorian values," said Paul Cavadino, chair of the Penal Affairs Consortium.

For Judge Tumim, who lost his contract as Chief Inspector of Prisons, because, according to insiders, he had become a thorn in the side of the Home Secretary, Michael Howard, it will become a fitting epitaph.

"I will be perfectly happy to be remembered as the person who introduced the sound of thousands of flushing lavatories to Britain's jails," he said.

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