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DAVID FROST: There's a report in the Telegraph today that Labour have cooked up a scheme to make in-mates pay for the cost of keeping them in prison. I'll be talking to the chief inspector of prisons about that and much more after this from our Home Affairs correspondent, John Silverman.
DAVID FROST: And Sir David Ramsbotham is here, good morning David.
DAVID RAMSBOTHAM Good morning.
DAVID FROST: First question. Would you say that prison conditions are any better now than when you joined the service?
DAVID RAMSBOTHAM Yes, I would. I mean I think a number of things have happened, and if I run through them in the order that I tackled them - first of all, health care. There is now a move to have the NHS taking over responsibility of health care in prisons, and that is resulting in an improvement in health care, although there's still a long way to go, particularly in the treatment of mentally disordered offenders. And I actually think prisons represent a public health issue because all prisoners except 23 are going to come out, and therefore their health when they come out is important. The Prison Service has instituted an organisation to look after women in prison, which they didn't have when I took over, and that means that their interests are now being looked after better. And they've just appointed someone to look after juveniles, to work with the Youth Justice Board, which means that that group, the under-18s, are now having concentration on them, so yes, there have been improvements.
DAVID FROST: And if you look today David, what percentage of people in prison, out of the 64,000 or whatever, would you say are living in conditions which one way or another you would still regard as unacceptable?
DAVID RAMSBOTHAM Well, to start with, you look at the 2,500 who are above the capacity of the Prison Service to hold. That means that they're living in overcrowded conditions. Then, I couldn't put a figure on it, but there are a large number of old Victorian prisons, for example, which have got a huge backlog of maintenance, the Prison Service maintenance on backlog is roughly £2 billion because over the years the capital money's been cut and therefore they're not living in decent conditions. But it goes further than that because it's not just the living conditions, it's the conditions which enable work and education and other rehabilitation treatment to be given to them, because they are inadequate, there aren't enough workshops, there aren't enough education centres, and so on.
DAVID FROST: Not enough meaningful work ¿
DAVID RAMSBOTHAM Yes.
DAVID FROST: You mentioned funds there, what about the story in the paper today that Labour wants to get in-mates to pay for their residential stay in Her Majesty's Prisons - would that - would that work?
DAVID RAMSBOTHAM No. I'm, the maths, to start with, I mean if you look at the sums, it costs £25,000 a year on average to keep a prisoner in prison, and the average wage for a prisoner is £5 per week for standard, for standard wage, so where's the money coming from. And if they -
DAVID FROST: Well the money's going to come, presumably, from selling off their assets forcibly.
DAVID RAMSBOTHAM But I mean, I'm sorry, I can only use one word for that - that's nonsense. Because - and it also flies in the face of Government policy, I mean the policy is to protect the public by preventing crime. You prevent crime by trying to prevent individuals commit crimes when they come out, and you do that by tackling all the problems of offending behaviour and lack of education, lack of work skills and so on. And they say that the three things that are most likely to prevent anyone reoffending are a home, a job and a stable relationship. So if you're going to sell the home and ruin the chance of the relationship, you're not actually going to rehabilitate, you're actually flying in the face of your own policy.
DAVID FROST: So it just simply won't work.
DAVID RAMSBOTHAM No, it won't work.
DAVID FROST: And prison doesn't work, does it? I mean you don't believe, do you - if I'm right, interpreting you right - that all these cries from politicians for more people in jail, you think there should be fewer people in jail.
DAVID RAMSBOTHAM Well I do because I've always thought that prison is rather like hospitals and the health service, it's the acute part where treatment takes place. They've got no control over who comes in, they've got to try and make them better, but you can't do that completely, it's got to be done, linked to the community in the form of after care. Now the point is that if you're going to have prisons that do that, they've got to be made to work. Prison works to the extent that anyone in prison cannot commit a crime on the outside while they're in - absolutely fine. But it ignores the fact that all except 23 of the 65,000 are going to come out. Now the question must be, in what state of mind are they going to come out, because if you treat them like animals they'll reoffend, if you do something to tackle reoffending the chances are that they might not. Prison doesn't work, is also, I think a simplistic phrase, because it assumes that nobody is going to be cured or nobody's not going to reoffend - that's not true either, because 45 per cent don't reoffend and, the figures show, that if you work at them then you can raise that figure. And that, well I think that the phrase 'prison must be made to work as well as possible' is what we'd look at, and that means work with prisoners to try and prevent them reoffending when they're released.
DAVID FROST: And do you regret that you're leaving in July or would you like to have continued?
DAVID RAMSBOTHAM Well - heh - yes, I mean I, obviously I've got a, I've got the most marvellous team I think I've ever worked with in my career, and that makes every day a buzz if you like. I like to think we're making progress but I think one of my major disappointments is I've put quite a lot into this, I've written four details annual reports, for example, that the Government have never commented on any of them, so I don't know how much they've listened to what I tried to say. The fact is they may remove the messenger but the message will still go on until something's done about it.
DAVID FROST: Well we're listening to the message right now, David thank you very much, all the best for the future, we hope to see you again before July as well.
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