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Sunday, 22 July, 2001, 14:49 GMT 15:49 UK
Prison chief criticises young offenders' jail
Sir David Ramsbotham, chief inspector of prisons, inside a jail
Sir David Ramsbotham retires this week
The outgoing Chief Inspector of Prisons will publish a damning indictment on Feltham Young Offenders Institution in his last week in the job.

Sir David Ramsbotham told the BBC that Feltham was "one of the worst" parts of the British penal system and called on the government to rethink its approach to the young offenders.

I was forced to question who on earth I could go to now if the home secretary hadn't responded

Sir David Ramsbotham
Speaking on BBC One's Breakfast with Frost programme he accused prison officers at Feltham, in south west London, of being "utterly irresponsible" in blocking improvements.

He also levelled wider criticism at the government for redirecting resources away from institutions for 18-21 year olds to pay for improvements for institutions dealing with younger offenders.

Sir David said one of his last acts as chief inspector of prisons would be to publish a report on Feltham.

"Yet again, one of Feltham's major problems has been the attitude of the Prison Officers' Association, which has been utterly irresponsible and has been one of the major factors in change at Feltham not being achieved," he said.

But while this may be the worst example of a young offenders' institute the problems ran deeper, he added.

Resources milked

He argued that 18-21 year-olds were "neglected," despite the possibility that they might be saved from turning to a life of crime.

Interior of a cell at Feltham Young Offenders' Institute
Feltham: One of the worst examples of young offenders' institutes

"Resources for the 18-21s were milked to provide for the 15-18s meaning there was nothing for the 18-21s - no work, no education, no gym, inadequate staffing," he said.

And he stood by his assertion made earlier this year that the killers of James Bulger should not be sent to a post-18 young offenders institution because it would adversely affect their rehabilitation.

Negative treatment

Sir David has already said that he was treated as "the enemy" by former Home Secretary Jack Straw, who he accused of failing to act on his highly critical reports.

But he said that Mr Straw's successor David Blunkett had been more supportive.

He told the programme that he never understood why he was regarded as the enemy when he was acting as a "quality controller".

In the case of Birmingham's Winson Green Prison, Sir David said he was frustrated to find the prison unchanged on a return visit two years after he had produced a critical report.

"I was forced to question who on earth I could go to now if the home secretary hadn't responded," he said.

But on a more positive note he praised Mr Blunkett's team for not only listening but for providing encouragement.

Mr Ramsbotham, who gives up his post after five years on 1 August, will be replaced by Anne Owers CBE, currently director of the human rights and law reform organisation Justice.

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