Sunday 11 May 2014

Good governors make prisons work - Lord Ramsbotham

Lord Ramsbotham speaking at the Oxford and Cambridge Club about the nature of prisons: prison itself is not the punishment: being sent to prison is the punishment. Quite a hard distinction to get across - especially when so many people know so little about prison. He believes the purpose of the prison system is to encourage people to build a better life. Good examples of successfully functioning prisons - in Norway and the Netherlands. Ramsbotham was Chief Inspector of Prisons from 1995 to 2001.

Brought back memories of a Bridging Arts project - Srebrenica Now - in Feltham Young Offenders Institute and Wormwood Scrub: we created photographs and posters to be used by the education departments in both. Feltham YOI is a very tough place. Have things moved forward since the report Ramsbotham himself wrote in 1998: “This report… is, without doubt, the most disturbing I have had to make during my three years as Chief Inspector of Prisons... I ask the staff… implicated by these remarks whether they would be happy for their sons, or the sons of any of their friends, to be on the receiving end of the treatment and conditions described in the report which are unacceptable in a civilized country.”

Someone mentioned in passing that things were once again bad at Feltham: cuts mean many of the young offenders are locked up in cells from Thursday evening through the weekend.

Ramsbotham said much depended on the calibre of prison governors. Prior to 1963, governors had military backgrounds. Since then things have changed and prison management has become less disciplined.

Alongside Ramsbotham was a speaker from Prisoners Abroad - the only UK charity caring for the welfare of British prisoners held in foreign prisons. This seems a great example of a charity doing much needed work on a relatively small budget.

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