July 14, 2010: Hard Times Ahead For Prisons: Anne Owers
The outgoing Chief Inspector of Prisons today warned the government of the challenges ahead in maintaining progress in an overpopulated prison system. Dame Anne Owers urged ministers to be bold and think differently about prison in her final speech at the Prison Reform Trust.
Charting the progress made over the past nine years, the Chief Inspector stressed that prisons were brittle, but not broken, and the changes and investment made in health care, education and resettlement work, coupled with the considerable efforts of the prison service, means that prisons are better places than they were nine years ago.
But while prisons have drawn in additional skills, services and money, they have also drawn in an extra 20,000 adult men.
Welcoming the current government’s commitment to ending the revolving door of prisons, Anne Owers stated the need for rigorous and realistic planning before the implementation of any changes. She called for investment in alternatives to prison, as well as continuing investment in other services, such as mental health or substance misuse, so that prison is not the route by which people get support.
Anne Owers said:
"Over the last nine years, prisons have become better places. This is not a broken system, but one where considerable effort and resources have been devoted to trying to rehabilitate prisoners, drawing in resources and expertise from outside. But prisons have also drawn in 27% more prisoners. That is one of the underlying reasons why progress has been slow and recidivism remains obstinately high. We now have an inflated prison system in a shrinking state. Our overpopulated prisons are not broken, but they are increasingly brittle.
"Instead of creating and sustaining a prison system too big to fail, and drawing in more and more resources to try to make it better, the age of austerity offers the chance of tackling a prison system that has become too big to succeed – by doing things differently.
"That makes it crucial to invest in ‘not prison’: both instead of and after prison. This will pose considerable problems at present. For, as the closure of the large mental hospitals showed, it is not enough simply to shut down or reduce places that provide inappropriate responses to problematic human behaviour. It is also necessary to invest sufficiently and appropriately in the alternatives. Justice reinvestment is rather different from justice disinvestment."
Dame Anne Owers took over from Lord Ramsbotham as Chief Inspector of Prisons in 2001. HM Inspectorate of Prisons is an independent inspectorate, inspecting places of detention to report on conditions and treatment, and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public.