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Wednesday, 22 March, 2000, 04:03 GMT
'Alcatraz' prison conditions criticised
woodhill jail
Woodhill specialist unit criticised in Prisons Inspectorate report
Some of Britain's most disturbed prisoners are being deprived of mental stimulation and human contact, according to a report.

Britain's most notoriously disruptive inmate Charles Bronson is among a hard-core of prisoners locked up in specialist units because of their dangerous behaviour.

charles bronson
Charles Bronson: Housed in Woodhill specialist unit
An austere regime for about 40 men kept in close supervision centres at Woodhill and Durham jails means many of them do not see another human face for months.

But a report by the Prisons' Inspectorate recommends that prisoners locked up in Britain's "Alcatraz" should be kept in better conditions to prevent them becoming more disruptive.

A handful of the most disturbed inmates at Woodhill, at Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, are rarely allowed out of their cells and are met by six officers in full protective gear and helmets when they are let out.

Punishment conditions

Inmates in the segregation unit - "D-wing"- live in "total isolation in punishment conditions" with only an hour's respite a day.

The report concludes that "prisoners were chronically socially isolated and under-stimulated".

Restrictions mean that contact with friends and families is rare, with little exposure to the "humanising influence" of people who care for them.

We need to find a way of holding them in terms of conditions that are acceptable but not seen to reward outrageous dangerous behaviour

Chief Inspector of Prisons Sir David Ramsbotham
The report recommends that prisoners should be allowed to keep study material, clothing and other property that other mainstream prisoners are allowed.

The report say the stark regime has not worked for some inmates who "continue to resist, and may indeed regress".

It concludes: "The regime operating in D-wing in Woodhill which imposes total and continuing isolation in punishment conditions for unlimited periods is unacceptable."

Chief Inspector of Prisons Sir David Ramsbotham said: "We need to find a way of holding them in terms of conditions that are acceptable but not seen to reward outrageous dangerous behaviour."

He called for an independent monitoring group to scrutinise the close supervision centre system.

Specialist unit regimes
Specialist units opened in 1998
There are currently 46 inmates
Cells have a cardboard table and chair
Radios and photos are not allowed
Food is passed through secure hatches
Bed is a concrete plinth with a mattress
Only two inmates at a time allowed out of their cells to shower or for exercise in a caged yard
Longest continuous stay on D-wing was seven months
Prison Service Director General Martin Narey welcomed the report and said he would give "serious consideration" to the comments.

He highlighted the difference between England and Wales, where 46 inmates were subjected to the regime, and the US, where there were 18,000 in similar conditions.

"The management of the most difficult and dangerous prisoners presents a major problem for countries throughout the world," he said.

"We have not always got the balance right and I will give serious consideration to the chief inspector's comments."

Many of the prisoners in the specialist units are convicted killers, but their behaviour behind bars marked them out for special treatment.

Five had been convicted of killing while in jail, three had taken hostages and others were involved in serious disturbances.

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