Dame Anne Owers DBE
Dame Anne Owers DBE was the first woman to be appointed to the post of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons. But more significantly, she was one of the most renowned campaigners for human rights and law reform.
Anne Owers was educated at Washington Grammar School County Durham before going on to study at Girton College, Cambridge from where she graduated with a degree in History. From 1968 to 1971 she taught in Zambia undertook research for a PhD in African History. For four years from 1981 she worked as a researcher at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, and then she held the post of General Secretary there until 1992.
During her distinguished career she has chaired the Board of Trustees of the Refugee Legal Centre between 1993 and 1996. She was a Member of the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Legal Education and Conduct from 1997 to 1999 and after that a member of the Home Office's Task Force on the Human Rights Act for two years. In addition, she served on the Legal Services Consultative Panel from 2000 to 2001.
However it was as the Director of the human rights and law reform group Justice from 1992 to 2001 that she gained national recognition as a Human Rights campaigner. Under her, Justice (which boasts 300 judges among its members) produced reports urging reform of the law in many important areas: investigating miscarriages of justice, life sentences, juvenile justice, and asylum law. Justice supported key cases in international and domestic courts, for example, to remove Ministers' powers to determine the length of detention for individual life sentenced prisoners.
Many believe that Anne's background has labelled her an "outsider"; a status she believes is an "advantage", allowing her a fresh perspective on her work. The plight of prisoners was one of Justice's main concerns. Perhaps her greatest achievement during her time at Justice was to help secure the setting up of the Criminal Cases Review Commission which was created to investigate more effectively possible miscarriages of justice.
Anne's reports on the conditions and treatment of inmates in prisons and immigration detention centres have shed light into these hidden places. Building on four key tests – that prisoners and detainees should be held safely, treated with respect, allowed to engage in purposeful activity and prepared for release – she has succeeded in improving conditions in individual prisons, and highlighted the effects of prison overcrowding. She has drawn particular attention to suicides in prison, the treatment of children, the extent of mental illness among prisoners, and the need for effective rehabilitation. Under her, the Inspectorate has developed human rights based criteria which are accepted internationally, and have been used outside England and Wales. Using the same approach, her reports into immigration detention facilities have exposed shortcomings and achieved some improvements.
Anne Owers has contributed much to the cause of human rights through her work both in the past, and in her current role as Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons. She has raised the profile of prison reform and contributed to the protection of the human rights of all detainees in this country. She has also maintained her commitment to issues of diversity which she first became involved with in the 1970s as part of the Race Relations Commission in the diocese of Southwark.
At London South Bank University we subscribe to Anne Owers' philosophy. We host the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics which for over 75 years has delivered over 5000 academics and intellectuals into the safety of this country, of whom 18 have gained Nobel prizes. We offer courses in refugee studies, our staff work in prison education and we research into issues of diversity, disadvantage and social capital, as well as the law of civil rights.
In 2000, a year before being appointed Her Majesty's Inspector of Prisons, Anne Owers received a CBE for her work on human rights.