Former army general David Ramsbotham was Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons from 1995 to 2001. He and his staff conducted 237 inspections, visiting every prison in England, Wales and Northern Ireland at least once. He tried to provide independent and objective quality assurance, based on facts.
His first visit, to the women's prison at Holloway in north London, was a 'horrific experience'. In 1984 its housing for mentally disturbed women 'could drive people mad' - it was dark, with rising damp, rats and cockroaches.
All but 24 of the 73,000 prisoners (when Ramsbotham wrote the book) will be released. The purpose of prison is to reform, to prevent re-offending, but it is failing. 58% of adults re-offend within two years of release, 78% of all offenders under 21 and 88% of children aged between 15 and 18. But settlement is still 'inconsistent, uncontrolled, and without operational supervision'.
Ramsbotham tells how a supplement of vitamins, minerals and fatty acids reduced serious offences by 37%. It would cost just £3.5 million a year to give it to every prisoner every day, from a prison budget of £2.8 billion. The Prison Service rejected this proposal. It also rejected his proposal to set up Housing Advice Centres in all prisons. He tells the horrifying story of the Prison Service's punitive raid on Blantrye House, one of Britain's best-run prisons, which had just an 8% re-offending rate.
He describes as 'the enemy' Home Office ministers, particularly Home Secretaries, and the people at the top of the Home Office and the Prison Service, who all fought his efforts to improve the prison service. They all follow Bill Clinton's cynical advice on crime - "don't let your opponents look tougher than you do." Ramsbotham sums up that government policy in practice 'did not include the provision of decent and humane treatment of and conditions for prisoners'.
His wife observed, "If prison worked - we would be shutting prisons not opening them." But this government wants to build three new Titan prisons, against the united opposition of those who work with offenders.
Ramsbotham's approach, by contrast, is practical and fair: "Most prisoners, when treated with respect as human beings, can and will respond. Those who need medical treatment benefit when treated as patients first and prisoners second."