Page last updated at 23:49 GMT, Tuesday, 19 August 2008 00:49 UK

'Growing violence' at UK prison

Prison door
Frankland Prison holds some "extremely challenging" prisoners

An inspection of one of Britain's high-security prisons has raised concern about levels of violence.

Frankland Prison had become even more challenging with rises in gang links and the arrival of a small number of convicted terrorists, the report said.

The HM Inspectorate of Prisons found serious incidents of prisoner-on-prisoner violence at the Durham jail.

The National Offender Management Service said issues raised in the report were being addressed.

The Prison Reform Trust said the report was a "timely warning".

The inspection acknowledged that HMP Frankland holds some "extremely challenging prisoners" such as those with affiliations to gangs or a history of extreme violence.

It also houses prisoners convicted of serious sexual offences, some with severe personality disorders, and a few convicted terrorists.

However, it found "no evidence" of a "robust violence reduction strategy" to deal with bullying, which it said can have serious consequences for order and control as well as prisoners' safety.

The report found that black and minority ethnic inmates felt "especially unsafe".

Inspectors said Muslim prisoners in particular were "seeking sanctuary in the segregation unit".

Omar Khyam
Khyam said other inmates were plotting to attack him

HMP Frankland hit the headlines last year when convicted bomb plotter Omar Khyam threw boiling oil over a fellow inmate.

The incident in October 2007 followed a similar scalding at the prison when al-Qaeda inmate Dhiren Barot was serious burned with oil.

Earlier this month, a prison officer was injured during a riot at Frankland after nine prisoners began smashing up their cells.

In July, trouble broke out when it is understood the cell of al-Qaeda terrorist Kamel Bourgass was set on fire.

Muslim prisoners

Frankland had been assessed as one of the Prison Service's high-performing jails but the inspection in February found it to be "drifting" in some key areas, particularly in relation to safety.

Chief Inspector of Prisons Anne Owers said: "High-security prisons require constant and vigorous management in order safely to contain and work effectively with their challenging populations.

As the population has an increasing number of black and minority ethnic prisoners, it is vital that all staff receive training in diversity issues
Andrew Neilson
Howard League for Penal Reform

"Frankland's population had become even more challenging recently, with increases in gang affiliations and the arrival of a small number of convicted terrorists.

"It is unfortunate that this coincided with the absence of the governor for some months, and the resulting drift that was observable at this inspection needs urgently to be reversed."

She added the urgency was heightened as the prison is expanding to more than 1,000 prisoners, a record number for a high-security jail in the UK.

Its operational capacity is 749 and as of 1 December 2007, the number of prisoners held was 722.

Inspectors also found:

  • Little management analysis of data on bullying, intimidation or self-harm
  • Positive drug tests were high for a high-security prison
  • Relationships between staff and prisoners were variable
  • Understanding of, and knowledge about, Muslim prisoners was particularly weak
  • Outdated resettlement strategy in place

Andrew Neilson, assistant director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said the lack of a "comprehensive violence reduction strategy" was "surprising" in a high-security prison.

He also said the report confirmed a wider, developing issue in terms of staffing in the high-security prison estate.

"As the population has an increasing number of black and minority ethnic prisoners (BME), and an increasing proportion of Muslim prisoners, it is vital there is more BME recruitment and that all staff receive training in diversity issues," he said.

"This will empower staff so that they are able to sensibly confront problem behaviour when necessary, while also going a long way to improving relationships within the jail."

He added that a recent Prison Service report of high-security Whitemoor Prison in Cambridgeshire found staff there did not feel confident about confronting BME prisoners for fear of being branded racist.

Good points

Imran Hussain, head of policy at the Prison Reform Trust, said the report was a "timely warning" for the Prison Service.

"It needs to rectify the shortcomings highlighted in this report and make sure everyone in Frankland is in a safe environment."

He added that prison officers often have misconceptions about Muslim prisoners, which make up 11% of the entire prison population, and they needed to recognise that they were in jail for a "wide range of offences".

Phil Wheatley, director general of the National Offender Management Service, said the issues raised in the report were being addressed.

"I am concerned about the comments on safety, however this should be seen in the context of Frankland's extremely challenging population," he said.

"A new diversity and safer prisons manager is now in post to ensure a focus on the matters raised in relation to anti-bullying and diversity."

The report did praise the prison on several points, particularly the "excellent" multi-disciplinary relationships in the Dangerous and Serious Personality Disorders unit.

The announced inspection, carried out from 4-8 February, also found activity had improved, with good quality education, work and training places for most prisoners.

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