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The BBC's Peter Wilson
"Inmates complaining of endemic violence and assualts"
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Wednesday, 4 April, 2001, 01:10 GMT 02:10 UK
'Horrendous' violence at youth jail
Sir David Ramsbotham
Sir David says inmates lived in constant fear
The chief inspector of prisons has branded a young offenders' institution "unsafe" after uncovering evidence of hundreds of injuries to inmates.

In a spot check on Stoke Heath YOI in Shropshire, Sir David Ramsbotham's team found there were 717 acts of violence in eight months - nearly 24 a day.

It is quite clear that too many children and young people in Stoke Heath neither felt nor were safe

Sir David Ramsbotham
The institution's own files show 550 of the incidents were assaults or fights.

Sir David said the "horrendous" level of violence was the worst he had ever found involving children and young people in custody.

There had also been 187 serious assaults on young prisoners over a year and 58 on staff, the inspector's report reveals.

"It is quite clear that too many children and young people in Stoke Heath neither felt nor were safe," said Sir David.

"I have never had to report such a horrendous number of reported injuries to children and young people."

Initiation tests

His unannounced inspection of the 600-inmate institution found "assaults, fighting and violence were endemic".

A third of juveniles and 23% of young offenders were put through some sort of initiation test when they arrived at Stoke Heath, Sir David's report adds.

All the juveniles who arrived in the 10 days before last October's inspection told Sir David's team that they were "very frightened and in constant fear of assault from other children", the report says.

One child who had been at Stoke Heath for two weeks had two black eyes and was "considerably distressed", stating he had been attacked four times since arriving. He refused to tell staff who had assaulted him.

'Improvements made'

Former governor John Alldridge retired from Stoke Heath for medical reasons and was replaced last October by Cathy James.

Director General of the Prison Service, Martin Narey, said the number of injuries had halved since the inspection.

Many of the young men come to Stoke Heath with a history of anti-social or violent behaviour

Martin Narey
"Stoke Heath is neither unsafe nor inhumane, but it is an establishment which has shown real evidence of weathering a period of turbulence, to regain a sense of stability and purpose," he said.

"It must be recognised that many of the young men come to Stoke Heath with a history of anti-social or violent behaviour.

"A range of very successful measures has been introduced to tackle bullying, resulting in a significant fall in the level of violence and injuries."

The Children's Society called the report "chilling" and repeated its calls for the 1989 Children Act - from which institutions such as Stoke Heath are exempt - to be extended to all young people in prison.

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