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Monday, 15 July, 2002, 17:30 GMT 18:30 UK
'Concern' for crowded jails
Anne Owers, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
Anne Owers, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
The Chief Inspector of Prisons, Anne Owers, has claimed she is "extremely concerned" about overcrowding in British prisons and fears that the lack of opportunities for rehabilitation may mean prisoners are more likely to re-offend on release.


We're moving away from what seemed like a very positive agenda

Anne Owers
In an interview for BBC HARDtalk, Ms Owers told Lyse Doucet that she feared the situation was getting out of control.

"I am extremely concerned about overcrowding" she said.

"One of the things that has happened during my short time as Chief Inspector is a feeling that we're moving away from what seemed like a very positive agenda."


"When I started doing this job there was a lot of talk about resettlement being a core activity of prisons, about the importance of tackling offending behaviour, about trying to resettle people, about trying to make sure they've got jobs. We know if people get jobs they're 50% less likely to re-offend."

Reform

This month the prison population in England and Wales reached a record high with 71,480 prisoners being held in jails.

Prisoners in jail
Can Owers transform British prisons?
A report by the Prison Reform Trust released in June this year found that 53 out of 60 prison Boards of Visitors had serious concerns about the effects of overcrowding.

Twenty four boards also reported that there was little or no constructive activity and no opportunity to prepare prisoners for resettlement in the community.

Ms Owers who is a former human rights activist said that she believed the overcrowding crisis meant that the focus of her job had changed from rehabilitating prisoners to damage control.

"Since January we've got the prison population rising at such an extent that all the energy now is being focussed simply on finding spaces to put people in," she said.


Energy now is being focussed simply on finding spaces to put people in

Anne Owers
"Prisons are less safe places, they are less decent places, they are places less likely to achieve successful resettlement because of that overcrowding."

She went on to express her concern about the future of British prisons if reforms were not pushed through.

"Unless we use prisons only for the purpose that they are intended and only as places where serious work can be done with people, what we will have is prisons with revolving doors," she said.

Achievement

Anne Owers was appointed HM Chief Inspector of Prisons in August 2001 and is the first woman to hold the title.

With almost a year into her new role, she remains optimistic about what she can achieve.

"One of the reasons I feel confident about reporting on prisons that are failing....is that I see prisons that are actually doing a great deal better and some prisons who by many standards are succeeding," she said.

"My best prison would be rather like creating a fantasy football team, or the ideal European country. You pick different bits from different prisons. If those bits could be got together, there would be some extremely good work that can be done."

"Equally if the worst bits are got together, what you get is a prison that is failing the people in it and ultimately failing society."

You can watch the HARDtalk interview in full at the following times:

BBC News 24 (times shown in BST)
Tuesday 16 July 0430, repeated 2230

BBC World (times shown in BST)
Tuesday 16 July 0430, repeated 0930, 1130, 1630, 1930, 0030



HARDtalk with Tim Sebastian is broadcast Mon - Friday on BBC World and BBC News 24
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