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Tuesday, 23 January, 2001, 19:32 GMT
New unit for killer inmates
behind bars
A more liberal unit is needed following prisoner protests
A new ultra-secure unit is being planned to contain a handful of the nation's most dangerous prisoners.

Details have been released of a 500,000 jail-within-a-jail to be built at Wakefield prison, creating a new tier of high-level security in the service.

About five inmates - almost certainly those who have killed or attempted to kill fellow inmates or prison staff - will be housed in the 150-a-day cells.

Each inmate will have a television and computer and access to visitors, the telephone, radio and writing materials at a cost of 55,000 a year per person.

A third of them have murdered or attempted to murder staff or other prisoners

Martin Narey
Prison Service
The more liberal regime was announced on Tuesday, the same day that an independent report condemned the tough regime of Woodhill Prison's D-wing as "seriously flawed".

The three-year-old unit in Milton Keynes, which has now closed, kept prisoners locked in their cells for up to 23 hours a day.

After being hailed as "a real step forward" when it opened, prisoners were soon rebelling against the tough regime with dirty protests and threats of legal action.

Last year Chief Inspector of Prisons Sir David Ramsbotham said the D-wing could damage prisoners' mental health.

Dangerous dozen

Director of high security prisons Peter Atherton said humane facilities with a therapeutic ethos were needed.

The new Wakefield unit was announced as part of a package of new measures for improving the handling of dangerous prisoners.

These include:

  • new mental health assessment centre at Belmarsh prison
  • individual plans to manage each prisoner
  • a graduation centre at Durham through which prisoners will progress to normal conditions
  • segregation facilities at Long Lartin for prisoners who refuse to be assessed
  • clear assessment of relapses
  • closer relationships with other agencies such as hospitals

Of the nation's 64,000 prisoners, just 35 are considered particularly dangerous, and only 12 of those must be kept in the most secure conditions.

Director general of the Prison Service Martin Narey said: "The difficulty of managing these prisoners is very real.

Martin Narey
Narey: Concern for safety of staff and inmates
"A third of them have murdered or attempted to murder staff or other prisoners."

The Wakefield unit is expected to provide long-term containment for these prisoners, who may be incapable of progressing.

Mr Narey said: "I do not expect prisoners to die there. I would expect them to move on when their dangerousness has reduced - but that would take a very long time.

"Our over-riding concern is the safety of staff and other prisoners."

Brian Caton of the Prison Officers' Association said the new liberal regime planned for Wakefield was the result of the Prison Service bowing to pressure.

He said: "I hope they will be able to cope with the criticism when these inmates abuse their privileges and hurt or kill."

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