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The retiring Chief Inspector of Prisons Sir David Ramsbotham
The retiring Chief Inspector of Prisons Sir David Ramsbotham

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

PETER SISSONS: Britain has the biggest prison population in Europe and a number of jails that are far from model institutions. The Chief Inspector who's been something of a thorn in the side of the government has called the prison officers obstructive and the conditions at one prison bordering on the barbaric but Sir David Ramsbotham has some fear, paid the price for being outspoken, his contract has not been renewed and he clears his desk next week. Good morning Sir David.


PETER SISSONS: Jeffrey Archer first, four years in jail for perjury, appropriate?

DAVID RAMSBOTHAM: That's a matter for the sentencers I think rather than me, and obviously he won't serve the whole four years because nobody ever does. But it's interesting for the sentencer because you know jail is meant to be a period of punishment if you like, but also people are meant to be helped to live law-abiding and useful lives in prison or on release, that's the purpose of all the work done in prison and I wonder what work will be deemed appropriate to be done with Lord Archer.

PETER SISSONS: The tabloids are bound to, or some of them are bound to oppose him being sent to an open prison which they characterise as little short of a holiday camp, are they like that?

DAVID RAMSBOTHAM: Well I actually think the term open prison is a silly term, it's a contradiction in terms if you like. I would like to see them all called resettlement prisons because all except 23 of the 66,000 plus prisoners in prison are going to come out. They've all got to be resettled back into the community and the sort of, there are various stages of security which are needed for people, the last one being the one which is lowest which is the resettlement prison from which they go back into the community. I which they'd stop talking about open prisons.

PETER SISSONS: What sort of reception would Lord Archer get in jail?

DAVID RAMSBOTHAM: I wouldn't like to speculate to be quite honest. I imagine that he'll have been treated exactly the same as everyone else by the prison staff who've got at a prison like Belmarsh with a lot of prisoners coming in to process them all and they can't differentiate between any of them except if some of them have got particular problems such as suicidal tendencies, mental disorder or some other factor which needs to be taken to immediate account and I'm not aware of any that affect Lord Archer.

PETER SISSONS: Now you, in your five years in the job, were not popular with government, and you refer in your final report to, annual report to being regarded by Jack Straw when he was Home Secretary as the enemy, that's going a bit far isn't it?

DAVID RAMSBOTHAM: It's very interesting, when you go back to the, this inspectorate being reformed in 18, 1981, it had been out of existence for 104 years, Willie Whitelaw said about the inspectorate you may not like the message, you may not like the way the message is given, you may not like the messenger but you've got to listen because what you are hearing is informed fact based on actual inspection. Now, firms and other people would give their right eye to be furnished with unbiased, educated facts about something for which they were responsible and my disappointment, the Home Secretary's a busy person, my disappointment was that I never really got any acknowledgement from the Home Secretary as to what, in fact, we were reporting, the example of Birmingham which I asked him personally to get involved with because the resources needed for Birmingham needed him. And I went back two years later and nothing had happened so I was forced to question who on earth I could go to now if the Home Secretary hadn't responded. But I have to say I've been hugely encouraged by the immediate response to our work shown by David Blunkett and his team since they got in who've not only been listening but have been encouraging us and for the first time, for example, when I published my annual report last Tuesday it was accompanied by a ministerial statement about the report, welcoming it and drawing attention to it.

PETER SISSONS: Right so you're no longer the enemy as far as David Blunkett's concerned?

DAVID RAMSBOTHAM: Well I never knew why I should be regarded as enemy because I'm very much part of own troops. I mean if you're responsible for something quality controllers, which is what we are, surely should be part of the set up.

PETER SISSONS: Remind us which are the prisons that we can be least proud of and they really are a priority for, for action?

DAVID RAMSBOTHAM: Well for my mind the bit of the state that gives me the biggest problem is the one containing the 18 to 21-year-olds of whom there are some 8,000. Now they are neglected more than any other.

PETER SISSONS: And Feltham's the biggest?

DAVID RAMSBOTHAM: Feltham is the biggest and Feltham is one of the worst examples and one of the last things I shall be doing this week is publishing the report on Feltham which we conducted last year where yet again one of Feltham's major problems has been the attitude of the Prison Officer's Association which has been utterly irresponsible and has been one of the major factors in change at Feltham not being achieved.

PETER SISSONS: Is that why you were so anxious and so outspoken about the fact that the killers of Jamie Bulger should not go on to a post-18 prison?

DAVID RAMSBOTHAM: Oh this is exactly what Lord Woolf meant to when he talked about the atmosphere in the prisons for 18 to 21's where nothing is happening. What happened was that the government very sensibly introduced something called the Youth Justice Board which looks after all those between the ages of 15 and 18. But its resources were, were the resources of the 18 to 21's were milked to provide them for the 15 to 18, meaning there was nothing, no work, no education, no gym, inadequate staffing and so on and that's got to be tackled by the government, not just for Thompson and Venables but for all the others who are going through that stage because it's immediate, it's the big that immediately might prevent them turning to a life of crime.

PETER SISSONS: Sir David, thank you very, very much. And what are you doing next, another big job?

DAVID RAMSBOTHAM: No idea, I retired once, that last a day, this one might last a little longer.



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