Page last updated at 00:26 GMT, Wednesday, 20 May 2009 01:26 UK

'Violence rife at failing' prison

By Dominic Casciani
BBC News

Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight
75% of vulnerable inmates feel unsafe in Parkhurst, the report says

Bullying and violence are endemic at Parkhurst jail and it is in many ways a "failing prison", chief inspector of prisons Dame Anne Owers has said.

Dame Anne said the jail, on the Isle of Wight, had "slipped back" and lacked basic levels of safety and decency.

Inspectors found a "startling 75%" of vulnerable inmates felt unsafe and one disabled inmate had not showered for a year because staff had not helped him.

The Prison Service accepted the findings but said change was under way.

Inspectors criticised the jail in 2006 - and Dame Anne sent a team back into the prison in December last year to see if things had improved.

Staff wouldn't push wheelchairs unless they were trained and staff wouldn't get themselves trained to push wheelchairs

Dame Anne Owers

The team found a litany of problems and said the prison badly needed support from Prison Service chiefs.

"Safety was now a very worrying issue at Parkhurst," said the chief inspector of prisons.

"Bullying and violence appeared endemic, with more prisoners reporting that they felt unsafe than on our last visit, and evidence of the under-reporting of incidents."

"Worries about bullying were compounded by evidence of poor supervision of prisoners on the wings, and of the abuse of prescription medication."

She said: "In many ways, Parkhurst is a failing prison".

Dame Anne Owers: 'A lot of prisoners said they felt unsafe'

Dame Anne said that neither the environment nor the regime were suited to the role of a modern training prison.

'Malign influence'

Relations between staff and prisoners were distant, she said, and the prison was not doing enough to plan resettlements, including forcing the large number of sex offenders to address their crimes.

The report also said "exceptionally poor industrial relations" were exerting "a malign influence" over Parkhurst.

"One of the things that shocked us a great deal and I hope will shock the public was when we came across a disabled prisoner who had not been able to have a shower for a year because staff had not got him into a place where he could do that," said Dame Anne.

"Another hadn't showered for six months. Staff wouldn't push wheelchairs unless they were trained and staff wouldn't get themselves trained to push wheelchairs."

The report also criticised staff for failing to strike a deal with governors which would have helped the jail's imam hold religious education classes designed to counter the influence of radical Muslim inmates.

Parkhurst is a Category B prison with a chequered history. It was a military hospital converted into a prison in 1860. It now holds almost 500 inmates.

Phil Wheatley, head of the Prison Service, said he accepted the criticisms of Parkhurst - but said it was now undergoing substantial change after its management was merged with the Isle of Wight's two other jails.

"I am determined that the creation of the new prison and the associated restructuring will deliver the changes required," he said.

"I also agree that very poor industrial relations have hampered Parkhurst over the years and this cannot continue if Parkhurst, now part of HMP Isle of Wight, is to progress."

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