Saturday, July 08, 2006

Gagging the Messengers

The Government is threatening to stifle the independence of the prisons inspectorate:
A battery of former cabinet ministers, including an ex-home secretary, have accused the government of wanting to abolish the independent post of chief inspector of prisons simply to remove "a thorn in the ample flesh" of successive home secretaries.Under the police and justice bill going through parliament the chief inspector of prisons is to be merged with those responsible for monitoring the police, the courts, crown prosecution and probation services into a single criminal justice inspectorate.

The new chief inspector of justice, community safety and custody who is to take over in March 2008 is to be subject for the first time to the directions of ministers and will be charged with ensuring the criminal justice system operates effectively. The move is part of a wider Treasury-led cull to reduce the number of public sector regulators from 11 to four.

The current chief inspector of prisons, Anne Owers, has warned that the new role of the merged inspectorate clashes with her duty to inspect conditions of detention and the treatment of prisoners. It will also mean that the "sharp focus and direct voice of prisons' inspection will be lost or muffled", she has told the Guardian.

Her predecessor, Lord Ramsbotham, who is leading a parliamentary revolt to block the move, described it as "a wilful act of extreme folly". He said the independent inspectorate had played a key role in exposing pregnant women in chains in Holloway, assaults and outrageus behaviour in the segregation units at Wandsworth and Wormwood Scrubs, and that conditions were so bad at Woodhill that the governor had to be changed.
Both Anne Owers and Rambo have also shouted from the rooftops to improve the appalling treatment of vulnerable young offenders in prison, and to end the detention of children and babies in asylum detention centres. Although Home Secretaries have tried to keep their fingers firmly in their ears, the independence of the inspectorate does ensure that the truth comes out.

Update: just noticed more about this on Spyblog

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