Manchester has bucked the trend in a new report claiming cuts in resources are allowing prisoners to breeze through their sentences watching daytime television.
Inmates remain locked up and workshops empty, because there are now fewer officers to supervise prisoners and in turn fewer managers to supervise officers.
The Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick, has described the situation as ‘shocking’ and ‘frustrating’, with too many staff appearing indifferent about the prisoners in their care.
He said: “It would be better if prisoners were out at work rather than lying on their backs in their cells watching daytime telly.
“The reason why they’re in their cells is either because activity isn’t available or because no-one’s making arrangements to get them from their cell to where the activity is.”
However, Mr Hardwick praised the management of Manchester Prison, formerly known as Strangeways, for providing a positive example for others to follow.
Reporting on the prison, he said: “The governor was doing rounds, workshops were busy and purposeful. Wing staff knew exactly who was not at work, and why.”
In launching his annual report for 2011/12, Mr Hardwick said that before making any further cuts, ministers need to consider that pressure on the prison system is ‘telling’ and causing major differences in quality of service.
Comparing the provision between Manchester and Wandsworth prison in south-west London, Britain’s largest jail, he said: “In some cases, there was simply no good explanation for these differences.
“Here are two inner-city Victorian prisons, not holding exactly the same population, but similar budgets, similar pressures and performing at very different levels, and I think that’s the issue of the particular establishments.”
Other major problems highlighted in the report included abuse of prescription drugs, the smuggling in of mobile phones, and an alarming rise in the number of assaults, self-harm incidents and self-inflicted deaths.
Mr Hardwick finds the pattern ‘very-disturbing’ and something that ministers and the Prison Service should be concerned about.
He said: “I think it’s undoubtedly the case that the main reason for that is the gap between the resources available and the size of the prison population has got increasingly stretched.
“The issue is whether you’ve got the resources to keep them safe and do anything sensible with them when they’re there so that they’re less likely to offend when they come out.
“In a quarter of prisons the amount of activity on offer and the quality of it wasn’t good enough.”