Thursday, February 10, 2005

Jail's drug problem 'out of control'

UK: A jail condemned as "dismal" by the chief inspector of prisons had a drug problem which was out of control and threatened its security and safety of prisoners, an inspection report claimed yesterday.

Nearly half the inmates at The Mount prison in Hertfordshire said they felt unsafe, 25% had been victims of bullying and another 44% said it was easy to get hold of illegal drugs, according to the inspection report.

Prison staff failed to relate to the large numbers of ethnic minority prisoners - even though they had been a "significant" part of the prison population for years - and so were unable to pick up on tensions between the different groups.

Commenting on the report, the chief inspector of prisons, Anne Owers, said: "The first priority of those running a prison is to provide a safe and decent environment. At the time of the inspection The Mount was neither."

The 760-inmate men's prison in Bovingdon was a category C training prison. But only two out of three prisoners were able to take part in any meaningful training or work, said the report which was based on an inspection last October.

A third of the inmates were employed in the prison as cleaners but there were still ingrained dirt and litter across the prison, the report said.

Most of the cells in the segregation unit were in an "appalling condition" and prison officers "inexplicably" re-housed inmates in the dirty cells rather than those which had been refurbished.

Ms Owers said record keeping was "the poorest we have ever seen" and sentence planning was in "disarray" with a backlog of cases stretching back a year.

The single glimmer of hope at the prison was the education provision which Ms Owers described as "the jewel in the crown".

But it was out of the reach of many prisoners because of the absence of systems which made sure prisoners were able to access to service.

Ms Owers said : "The prison service needs to, and undoubtedly will, take decisive action in relation to The Mount.

"But prisons should not be allowed to deteriorate to this level. The Mount shows the importance of ensuring that managers, in our current pressurised prison system, are sufficiently scrutinised and supported in their difficult task."

The director general of the prison service, Phil Wheatley, said the previous inspection report for The Mount nearly three years ago identified it as a "good prison".

It had gone downhill since because of "significant population pressures and the level of drugs" coming into the prison, he said.

A new management team was already tackling the issues raised in the report including reducing overcrowding, he said.

By Debbie Andalo posted 10 February 05


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