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Chief Inspector for prisons Anne Owers
Chief Inspector for prisons Anne Owers

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

DAVID FROST: The new Chief Inspector of Prisons in England and Wales, Anne Owers, issued her first report on Friday, a scathing criticism of conditions at Dartmoor jail. Now in fact prisons are in the news today again and so it's a doubly propitious time to welcome, welcome Anne. Come on in a moment to the report about Dartmoor, but what about the news today, the quotes from, from David Blunkett, "we need to send, we send more people to prison than almost any other country, that's why I'm interested in creating special open prisons and hostels which would deny liberty but allow offenders to work and learn new skills. Prison is an expensive way of denying liberty." What's your response to that?

ANNE OWERS: I think it sounds on the face of it like a very creative response to some of the things we've been saying in our reports on individual prisons and on themes in prisons. We know that four out of five of people in our prisons will be out within a year, we know there are a lot of people on remand in prisons, we know that prisons contain women 60 per cent of whom are primary carers of children under 16. Now for many of those people prison provides maximum disruption to their lives with minimum benefit because they're not there long enough for the prisons to be able to do anything useful with them and so we have prisons with revolving doors which will go out and go, and then, and then come back in. And if we can find a better way of, of dealing with those people that will be to the benefit of them but it will also hugely be to the benefit of society and public protection.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of that, I mean they're projecting a prison population of 73,000, up 10,000 and so on and so forth, I mean that will effect the vital issue of over-crowding wouldn't it?

ANNE OWERS: Absolutely, I mean for too long...

DAVID FROST: We've got what? Ten thousand too many at the moment?

ANNE OWERS: Well we, we, I'm not sure of the exact figures but certainly, certainly too many and the reaction of simply building more prisons or shoving more people into the prisons we have is clearly one that's not working in terms of, in terms of the protection of the public. I think the other thing I'd like to add to the Home Secretary's shopping list on this is the number of severely mentally ill people in prisons who ought to be in NHS facilities and we're finding in recent inspections that there are more of them than we found three or four years ago and they're not getting the interventions they need, they're not being held, they can't be held in properly, properly safe, decent conditions and they can't be properly treated.

DAVID FROST: And how many are there, there are a lot more now, this is a new crisis really isn't it?

ANNE OWERS: It's a crisis that's been there for a long while, it's been a crisis since...frankly since we closed the large mental hospitals and four years ago we did a survey ourselves in the inspectorate and found that about a third of people in, in hospital in-patient units in prisons should be in mental health facilities. When we looked recently we found that that proportion had actually risen slightly if anything and that there are some very severely disturbed people who can't be properly looked after.

DAVID FROST: Yes that's, that's urgent. Tell me also when we were talking about overcrowding there, the other thing that happened this week, Lord Justice Walsh saying that people who've been nicking mobile phones could get up to five years in prison, unusual from him because he's usually moving the other way but in terms of that, that would give huge problems about the overcrowding?

ANNE OWERS: Well it could yes, I mean one of the good things that's happened over the last few years is that there have been improvements to the regimes for children in prisons, the 15 to 18-year-olds and they, they're getting, they're getting more education, they're getting more activity, they're getting a much greater link between what's happening to them in prison and what's happening outside and, and, and we say that fewer of them should be in prisons and certainly not in those large units, I've seen units where you've got 60 severely disturbed adolescent boys in the same place. The chances of doing any, any, any work with them to change around the way they're thinking as opposed to sending them out worse than they came in are very limited in those circumstances.

DAVID FROST: What about the, the subject of Dartmoor, now there was, your predecessor did a report three or four years ago, four years ago, and said many of the same things as, as you've been saying, why hasn't anything been done about it 'til now, or at least you went in September didn't you, and they say the new governor's started doing things since?

ANNE OWERS: I think already it was a prison on the move when we went there, where, where things were, things were trying to, to change. I think one of the reasons for Dartmoor is it's physically very remote, it's a long way away from, from where people normally visit, it was treated as the end of the line by the prison service and so it's, it's, it's always been a difficult place but I think it's an example of how, why, why, I would say, an independent inspectorate is desperately needed. Prisons are closed institutions and they can develop very bad cultures that last a long time or that develop quite quickly. If the prison isn't properly managed those things can happen and that's why it's terrifically important that we're there and that we can go in and we can really get under the skin of a prison.

DAVID FROST: Yes because some of the things that, like a Victorian dungeon was one phrase, and cages which brings thoughts of those pictures from Guantanamo. But all of these things have got to go really haven't they?

ANNE OWERS: They have and to be fair within the rest of the prison system, I mean Dartmoor struck you as very much an anomaly within, within the prisons I've seen and I've now inspected or visited over 30 prisons and, and Dartmoor struck you as, as, as standing out very much from the way that the prison service is moving and the agenda of decency and dignity that is in there, that's, that's there, but it indicates how these things can nevertheless survive and I think one of the things that, that I'm finding is that at, at senior level within government, within the prison service and so on, there is an agenda of decency, dignity, of trying to use prisons creatively, purposefully for the protection of society. There's a danger with that is a virtual prison system that they would like to see, what I'm doing is going in and seeing what's actually happening on the ground, what the actual prison system is and whether it is actually singing from the same hymn sheet.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of the rest of the Home Office, Sir David Ramsbotham your predecessor had quite a turbulent relationship with the rest of the Home Office, how's yours?

ANNE OWERS: At the moment we're saying the same things and, well many of the same things, obviously there are, there are differences and I'm very clear that the, the standards and the criteria that I'm using are, are mine and, and that's the way it should be, that's what an independent inspectorate is there to do...but I'm also prepared for, for stormy weather when, if and when it happens.

DAVID FROST: Right, and at the moment the priorities that have come up already are the question of overcrowding and the question of those people who are mentally ill and ought to be in a hospital rather than a prison?

ANNE OWERS: Those, those are certainly some, resettlement is one of the key priorities of the inspectorate and I've produced a major report about it and the way that prisons can actually try to turn round the lives of people within them, it's, it's a priority of, it's a priority that ministers are accepting, what we want to see is what the action is on that.

DAVID FROST: Anne thank you very much, we look forward to seeing you again, thank you for being with us today. Anne Owers there.


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