The misguided perception of UK prisons as 'holiday camps' was dispelled by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons during a public lecture at Bournemouth University.
Speaking on the subject 'What are Prisons for?' during the annual High Sheriff of Dorset's Lecture, Nick Hardwick contended that prisons should not be deliberately designed to add to the punishment of being in custody.
Instead, he called for the UK's justice system to focus on opportunities and resources to support rehabilitation. He also encouraged staff within the prison network to share the vision that it was a main purpose of their job to reduce the likelihood that prisoners would reoffend then they are released.
"It is not enough for prisons to punish and protect; they must rehabilitate as well," said Mr Hardwick who assumed his role as Chief Inspector of Prisons in August last year. "There does now appear to be a political consensus that whatever your views on prisons' role in punishing offenders and protecting the public, too often that is seen as the be all and end all; rehabilitation is seen as the poor relation.
"That must be seen as a central purpose and so there must be a better match between the numbers in prison and the purpose for which they are there and the resources to do better," he continued. "The critical problem is that we talk about prison capacity as the number of prisoners you can squeeze into the available cells - not whether there is the space and resources to do anything sensible with them."
As Chief Inspector, Mr Hardwick reports to the Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, on the treatment of prisoners and conditions in prisons in England and Wales including Dorchester, Winchester, The Verne, Portland YOI, Guys Marsh and Erlestoke in the South of England. His role also involves reporting to the Home Secretary on conditions and treatment in all places of immigration detention in the UK.