Page last updated at 00:40 GMT, Monday, 2 June 2008 01:40 UK

Jails 'miss out-of-cell targets'

Prison doors
A fifth of inmates said they were out of their cells for under two hours a day

"Impossible" claims about how much time inmates spend out of cells have been made by jails in England and Wales, the Chief Inspector of Prisons has said.

Anne Owers found public sector jails had wrongly reported that they met the government's 10-hours-a-day benchmark.

She also said private prisons, which incur fines for missing targets, had "significantly overestimated" their prisoners' "unlock" times.

The National Offender Management Service said data would be improved.

'Over-reporting'

In June 2007, publicly-run jails claimed that the average unlock time was 10.08 hours per inmate, while privately-run jails said their figure was 11.3 hours.

But a survey carried out for the chief inspector of 6,500 inmates found, in "stark contrast", that only 12% of prisoners in public sector prisons said they were out for 10 hours or more on weekdays.

It was impossible for the Prison Service to be providing the average of 10 hours out of cell it was claiming
Anne Owers
Chief Inspector of Prisons

The figure was 25% in contracted-out jails.

One-fifth of prisoners overall said they were out of their cells for less than two hours a day.

A separate study found that only three jails out of 17 achieved 10 hours for prisoners with jobs, and none met the target for unemployed inmates.

Ms Owers said that prisons "understandably struggle" with limited resources.

But "it does no good to disguise that fact by over-reporting", she said.

"These figures make clear that it was impossible for the Prison Service to be providing the average of 10 hours out of cell it was claiming."

Prisons often reported "unlock" times on the basis of their timetables rather than what had actually been achieved, the study found.

Phil Wheatley, director-general of the National Offender Management Service, said a "more transparent and auditable" data-gathering system had been introduced.

"This will improve the accuracy of the time-unlocked data in future," he said.


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