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Friday, 1 February, 2002, 10:44 GMT
Prisons inspector hits out
Anne Owers
Anne Owers: Prison officers not just turnkeys
The discovery of a cage where prisoner were interned for brief periods at Dartmoor jail symbolises much of what is wrong in prison culture, according to the chief inspector of prisons.

Anne Owers described the institution as the "jail that time forgot", and in an interview with BBC News Online said the "obscene" cage was a "humiliating and degrading place to put people".


I think the modern prison system if very clear that role of prison officers isn't just to be turnkey

Anne Owers
"It was important for us because it was a very strong example visually of the way staff had come to think of prisoners as dangerous people who needed to be in that kind of environment."

Asked if Dartmoor remained the prison that time forgot, Ms Owers said: "We'll find that out when we go back there.

"I hope not. It was already moving and what we found reinforced and added urgency to the things that needed to be done.

"We hope that the culture in the prison is changing and we'll be back to see whether it has or not."

Ms Owers also revealed her view of how the nature of the relationship between prison officers and inmates was at the core of ensuring that jails did not have "revolving doors".

Intimidation

"A lot of prisons are doing a lot to try to change the culture where officers don't engage with prisoners except to lock them up and unlock them and in some circumstances they behave and speak in a very disrespectful and undignified way.

"There have been a lot of changes in prisons and its about a slow process of changing that culture and allowing prison officers, motivating prison officers to engage with prisoners to help motivate and change them instead of thinking the only way to deal with them is by intimidation.

"I think the modern prison system if very clear that role of prison officers isn't just to be turnkey."

The role of a modern prison officers, she says, is "much more complicated".

"The role of prisons is to provide an atmosphere of opportunity where people can engage with their offending behaviour, get educational training, become more employable and become more socially integrated.

"Prison officers have a key role to play in this and I have seen prisons where that operated very well indeed and where prison officers enjoy their jobs much more because they feel they are doing something positive."

Ms Owers also believes that prison should be used as a last resort and that jails should not become overcrowded putting pressure on already limited resources.

"Prison shouldn't be a warehouse with people stacked waiting to come out."

Those jails where prison officers have engaged more with convicts have less security problems, less bullying and the authorities had a much firmer grasp of the atmosphere within the prison, she said.

'Wired up'

"If you lock prisoners up for 23 hours-a-day in the hour they come out of their cell they are absolutely wired up, and they're furious and mainly young men who are full of energy and often full of anger.

"If you let prisoners out [of their cells] more they are in fact much easier to control because you get to know them better, they get to know you better and the atmosphere in the prison's much more relaxed."

She gave the example of the Category C prison where the cell doors were largely left open and prisoners were free to wonder around if things got on top of them.

"That's in fact a much more secure place ... because there are real relationships between prisoners and staff who know much more what's going on - it's called dynamic security."

See also:

01 Feb 02 | England
Prison attacked for 'hard' image
07 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Jail bosses attacked over violence
30 Nov 01 | England
Jail boss loses confidence vote
22 Nov 01 | England
TV in cells for prisoners
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