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Wednesday, September 23, 1998 Published at 12:40 GMT 13:40 UK


Governor defends 'unsuitable' youth jail

Sir David Ramsbotham: "Adult prison conditions introduced"

The governor of a young offenders' institution has rejected the criticism levelled at him by the chief inspector of prisons.

The BBC's John McIntyre: "Bitter attack on the way Prison Service treats young people"
The Chief Inspector of Prisons, Sir David Ramsbotham, said Werrington Juvenile Centre in Staffordshire was "utterly unsuitable" for 15 to 17-year-olds.

Conditions there had become like those in adult prisons, he added.

[ image: Stephen Habgood: Escaped personal criticism]
Stephen Habgood: Escaped personal criticism
But Stephen Habgood, the governor, said the institution had been in a "transition period" when the inspector visited - one that was still going on.

Since his arrival as governor 12 months ago, he had focused on improving the regime "within the estate's limitations".

"I am certain it will become a centre of excellence," he said.

Local prison services manager Tony Fitzpatrick also said conditions were "far better" for many of the inmates than they had been in the past.

In the report, Sir David had said he found it "quite incredible" that HM Prison Service had removed "tolerable although not ideal arrangements" in favour of "utterly unsuitable conditions".

[ image: Sir David described the cells as little more than lavatories]
Sir David described the cells as little more than lavatories
"To find that adult prison conditions have been deliberately introduced, overturning previous and appropriate treatment and conditions for children, is nothing short of disgraceful.

He particularly criticised the replacement of dormitory accommodation with two-person cells.

"I have not come across such totally deliberate and unnecessary impoverishment of children anywhere and suspect that, were Werrington to be a secure custody unit in the hands of the Social Services, it would be closed for lack of provision of appropriate facilities," he said.

Sir David laid the blame for the failings with the Prison Service, however, and not the governor or staff of the institution.

Tony Fitzpatrick defends prison conditions
In response, Mr Fitzpatrick said that some observers had been "looking back through rose-tinted spectacles".

He said Sir David had called the dormitories they had been in before "Dickensian".

Mr Habgood told the BBC he had experienced difficulties with both types of accommodation.

"In dormitories, there was appalling bullying and theft - the lads used to steal from each other.

"In there [two-person cells] we have a higher risk of self-harm because we allow them privacy. So whichever type of accommodation you go for you're going to have problems."

Other criticisms included the switch from communal dining rooms to inmates eating in their cells, inadequate medical cover for those on suicide watch and lack of facilities in the sports hall.

[ image: Fewer guards now look after more inmates]
Fewer guards now look after more inmates
Also, the number of inmates had doubled to 192 but the report said staff and resources had not kept pace.

Mr Fitzpatrick said the numbers had dropped from 192 when the report was written to 121 and were expected to fall further to 106 by the end of the week.

The Prison Service Director General, Richard Tilt said there is room for "substantial improvement" at Werrington and he was urgently looking into how to go about this.

He said £500,000 was being spent on trying better ways of looking after young people serving custodial sentences.

He added: "I am pleased to note that the Chief Inspector acknowledges the commitment of the Governor and his staff at Werrington."

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