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Wednesday, 18 July, 2001, 08:36 GMT 09:36 UK
Prisons inspector 'sidelined' by Straw
Sir David Ramsbotham, chief inspector of prisons, inside a jail
Sir David Ramsbotham: Prison advice "ignored"
The outgoing Chief Inspector of Prisons has criticised former home secretary Jack Straw for treating him as "the enemy".

Sir David Ramsbotham, who retires on 1 August, said he was sidelined and his advice ignored when Mr Straw ran the Home Office.

If you ask the home secretary to do something about it and nothing happens, who else can you refer to?

Sir David Ramsbotham

In his fifth and final annual report, Sir David said he was seen "not as an independent and objective reporter of fact... but as an uncomfortable presence whose independence must be curbed".

Sir David said there were several terrible prisons, such as Birmingham's Winson Green, where his recommendations had simply been ignored.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Wednesday that the public deserved better.

"The home secretary is a very busy person and obviously he has his own programme to do," he said.

"But the inspectorate of prisons is something people pay for.
Former home secretary Jack Straw
Straw: "Busy"

"One is forced to ask if you ask the home secretary to do something about it and nothing happens, who else can you refer to?"

He said it was not only Mr Straw who was to blame, but also the civil servants within the Home Office.

But he said things had improved since David Blunkett took over following the June general election.

'Appalling treatment'

In his final report Sir David had harsh things to say about several prisons.

He criticised the attitude of staff at Feltham Young Offenders' Institute in west London as "appalling".

He told the Today programme this was "something which existed ever since Feltham was opened, it's still happening and it's got to stop".

Interior of a cell at Feltham Young Offenders' Institute
Feltham: "Appalling"
He also highlighted "appalling treatment and conditions" at the young offenders' institutions in Brinsford in the West Midlands, and Stoke Heath in Shropshire.

He also criticised the Prison Service for being "economical with the truth" over a raid at Blantyre House resettlement prison in Kent, in May last year.

He described the incident, in which officers raided the "model jail" because of largely unfounded suspicions of crime there, as the most disturbing and damaging he had seen.

He praised Leeds prison for remarkable improvement, but damned Birmingham for "almost the reverse".

And the treatment of mentally ill offenders in Brixton prison, south London "bordered on the barbarous", he said.

However, Sir David did say he felt conditions at jails in England and Wales had improved since he took up his role in December 1995.

"The prisons service I'm now leaving is a great deal better than it was five and a half years ago," he told Today.

"And I like to think that we in the inspectorate have contributed to it, because the action plans that we've put out have resulted in prisons that were not good becoming better."

Mr Ramsbotham will be replaced by Anne Owers CBE, currently director of the human rights and law reform organisation Justice.

Chief Inspector of Prisons Sir David Ramsbotham
"If you ask the home secretary to do something and nothing happens, who do you refer to?"
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