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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 July, 2003, 12:17 GMT 13:17 UK
League table shames worst prisons
Prisoner in a cell
The best jails will receive extra money for improvements

The worst three prisons in England and Wales have been named by the Prison Service for the first time.

HMP Holloway and HMP Brixton in London, along with HMP Dartmoor in Devon, were the only three out of the 138 jails to receive the lowest score.

Although league tables of prisons have been compiled for some years, this is the first time they have been published.

Ministers hope that making the findings public four times a year will encourage struggling jails to raise their standards.

Holloway, which holds women inmates, and the male prisons Brixton and Dartmoor scored just one point, indicating a "failing" jail.

Prison officers and managers at those failing jails will feel worse about the efforts they have put in

The top possible score is four points, indicating an "exceptionally high performing" prison.

The commissioner for correctional services, Martin Narey, said the three prisons were "failing to provide secure, ordered or decent regimes" and failing to hit key targets.

In January the chief inspector of prisons, Anne Owers, said inmates at HMP Dartmoor were routinely abused and degraded by officers desperate to cling to the jail's "hard" image.

Inspectors found suicidal prisoners being locked up in an "appalling" wire mesh cage, even though the governor had ordered this to stop.

I am pleased that five prisons have been awarded high performing prison status
Prison Service director general Phil Wheatley

A report published earlier this month found the jail was "safer and less oppressive" with no observed disrespectful behaviour by staff.

In February, Ms Owers criticised the imprisonment of pregnant teenage girls in "wholly inadequate" conditions at HMP Holloway.

Her report said the jail was suffering from many of the problems identified two years earlier, with parts of the it infested with cockroaches and feral pigeons.

Pregnant inmates were unable to shower more than twice a week, phone contact with families was difficult and staff shortages meant children's visits had been stopped.

Mr Narey described HMP Brixton two years ago as one of the six worst "hell holes" in the Prison Service.

Victimisation

Previous reports on Brixton have been scathing, with officers being accused of flouting authority by running a "jail within a jail" and victimising black inmates.

In 2001, Brixton became the first existing state prison to be offered for privatisation, but there were no takers.

Two other poor performing jails, Eastwood Park women's prison in Gloucestershire and Bullingdon in Oxfordshire, are to be performance-tested over the coming months.

This process could lead to them being privatised if conditions do not improve.

The five highest performers were the privately-run Altcourse in Liverpool, and the public sector jails Frankland in Durham, Lancaster Farms in Lancaster, Usk/Prescoed in Monmouthshire and Whatton in Nottingham.

Prisoner in HMP Birmingham
It is hopped publishing league tables will encourage improvement

The best jails will get extra money, which the governor can use to reward staff or invest in the prison, and will receive a special plaque.

Commenting of the findings, Prison Service director general Phil Wheatley said: "I am confident that HMP Bullingdon and Eastwood Park will both take this challenge and improve their performances.

"I am pleased that five prisons have been awarded high performing prison status.

"This sets a clear benchmark for all other establishments to strive towards."

The league table, published on Thursday, unexpectedly included the nine privatised jails in England and Wales.

The Prison Service had said, when announcing the initiative in April, that it would involve only public sector institutions.

A spokesman said the private jails had been judged using the same criteria as the public sector ones.




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