DAFT AS A BRUSH!; I Want People in Prison to Realise That There Is Culture in Life

Article excerpt

The "Aunt Sally" of the great jail fiasco brought culture to the cons as a prison boss, it was revealed last night.

Sally Swift was deputy governor of Leyhill open prison in Gloucestershire when it featured 31 of Picasso's most important etchings.

The 410 inmates, including more than 100 lifers, had a month to enjoy the portrayals of animals, insects and birds.

Last night, after two High Court judges ruled that Home Secretary Michael Howard was RIGHT to halt the embarrassing exodus from jails, it was Sally Swift who was playing the artful dodger.

She refused to answer questions on the amazing blunder which allowed the early release of 537 prisoners.

Ms Swift headed the Prison Service working party given the job of reviewing sentencing for prisoners who receive multiple terms. The ruling that thousands of prisoners had spent too long behind bars threw jails into chaos last week.

But it wasn't the first time that Sally Swift was at the centre of the storm.

At Leyhill prison, she justified the July 1993 Picasso exhibition by saying: "It is important to show people in prison that there are cultural activities in life. It is just part of making life more normal for prisoners."

She admitted the exhibition was mainly for prisoners, although members of the public could also view the works.

The inmates were kept away from visiting schoolchildren and a special viewing arranged for local magistrates.

The exhibition was sponsored by British Telecom and was part of a national tour organised by the South Bank Centre in London.

Leyhill also featured drama groups and art education classes as part of a "rehabilitation" programme.

Sally Swift, who is in her thirties, was later appointed governor at Birmingham prison and Pucklechurch, Bristol, before moving to the Prison Service headquarters in London.

At Pucklechurch she angered warders when she refused to ban smoking in rooms used by pregnant officers.

Safety inspectors were called in by angry union chiefs and Ms Swift was forced to back down and impose a ban.

A committed trade unionist, she joined banner-waving protests at the Government's ban on unions at the GCHQ spy centre at Cheltenham, Glos.

A former colleague said: "She can be a bit of a madam and dig her heels in over issues.

"At Pucklechurch she was definitely not popular with the staff who felt she never took their complaints seriously."

The early-release shambles followed the setting up of Sally Swift's working party last October.

Neither Mr Howard nor Prisons Minister Ann Widdecombe was told about the group.

Its brief was to look again at the way sentences were calculated.

The team decided that time served in jail awaiting trial was not being properly taken into account.

Later, Home Office lawyers reported that prisoners given consecutive sentences - one after the other - were entitled to have remand time knocked off for EVERY term. …