The extension of the appointment of Anne Owers as chief inspector of prisons has been announced by the Home Office today.
Anne Owers was appointed to the role in August 2001 and she took over from Sir David Ramsbotham. Her re-appointment means she will be in the position until March 2008.
Home secretary John Reid said: “Her knowledge and expertise is vital in enabling the Prison Inspectorate to continue to deliver an efficient, indepdent and rigorous inspection programme and this extension will ensure robust business continuity in this crucial area during the transition to the proposed new inspectorate for justice, community safety and custody.”
Owers was previously director of Justice, a human rights organisation.
During her tensure she has campaigned to improve the conditions in Young Offender Institutions and prison including improved suicide prevention work, better education and increased purposeful activity.
Anne Owers was also concerned when we highlighted the issue of special cells and children being locked in these rooms to “calm down”. At the time she pledged to monitor their usage and has frequently slammed the use of special cells for vulnerable inmates in her inspection reports.
Today, she said: “I am grateful for the opportunity to carry on leading the Prisons Inspectorate into 2008: at a time of great uncertainty and concern, both in relation to prisons and the Inspectorate itself.
“Ministers have said that they want us, during that time, to ensure that the current extent, robustness and methodology of custodial inspection is preserved and incorporated into the new justice, community safety and custody Inspectorate. This is a tribute to the work of all the staff in the Inspectorate, who week by week provide detailed, objective and expert assessments of our prisons and immigration detention facilities.
“Those are the terms on which I have agreed to stay, and I will do all I can to achieve this. However, I have consistently made clear my concern that the current structure and statutory provisions do not guarantee this for the future; and my fear that the sharp focus and direct voice of prisons inspection will be lost or muffled within a broader and differently focused body.
“I am particularly concerned that the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, and other international experts, do not believe that the current provisions for the new Inspectorate will be compatible with the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on Torture, which came into effect last week. This requires states to have in place a national preventive mechanism: independent experts who regularly visit places of detention. The UK was one of the Protocol’s first signatories – and it is gratifying that other countries are looking to this Inspectorate as a model of effective oversight. That reflects the work of many people over many years; and, as I have said before, it is too important to lose or diminish,” she concluded.