Tabloids journalists should not influence prisons cultural policy says Whitemoor visitors chair

By John Elworthy TABLOID journalists should not be allowed to influence the social and cultural activities of inmates, says a new report from a prison s board of visitors. Lesley Sage, chair of the Whitemoor Prison Board of Visitors, attacked the media

By John Elworthy

TABLOID journalists should not be allowed to influence the social and cultural activities of inmates, says a new report from a prison's board of visitors.

Lesley Sage, chair of the Whitemoor Prison Board of Visitors, attacked the media outcry which led to the cancellation of a comedy course by Justice Secretary Jack Straw.

Ms Sage, in her board's annual report, says the instruction given by Mr Straw led to the cancellation of "a commendable programme of workshops" aimed at reducing offending behaviour.


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"The board remains of the view that a potentially dangerous precedent was set by a Prison Service Instruction which states the ultimate arbiter as to whether or not an activity is suitable for a certain prisoner or group of prisoners is the press office and not the professionally qualified and experienced governors," she says.

"The reality, which could result, will be their professional decisions being influenced by the tabloid press, not something we believe most taxpayers would wish to become the norm."

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Ms Sage says courses were "brought to an abrupt halt by the intervention of the Minister of Justice. This also had the immediate effect of putting on hold all prisoner applications via education for Open University and other distance learning."

Ms Sage says the restrictions have been largely resolved, albeit after many difficulties and delays, but some prisoners missed courses which they might have attended.

Elsewhere in her report Ms Sage says a new canteen contract had resulted in prisoners receiving "very poor quality of fresh fruit and vegetables", out of date goods and prisoners ordering halal meats being supplied with non-halal equivalent which is "certainly not acceptable".

She says: "We feel the contract demonstrates ignorance of one fundamental contracting and negotiating principle that of understanding your customers' needs."

The annual report also criticised authorities for failing to prepare prisoners for release, inadequate mental health provision (up to 90 per cent of Whitemoor's 440 inmates are said to have a mental disorder) and inexplicable delays between deaths in custody and the completion of inquests.

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