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Tuesday, 20 August, 2002, 14:42 GMT 15:42 UK
Officer injured at 'violent' youth jail
Ashfield Young Offenders Institute
Ashfield was labelled England's "most violent prison"
A prison officer has been injured while breaking up fighting among inmates at a young offenders' institute.

The trouble began at 2000 BST on Monday at the Ashfield centre, in Pucklechurch near Bristol, when youths refused to go back to their cells.

Some of the inmates - aged between 16 and 18 years old - became violent and caused "superficial damage" to the wing.

Ashfield has also been accused of putting profit before the welfare of inmates in a new report by the Howard League for Penal Reform.


There have been acute difficulties recruiting and retaining staff

Charlotte Day, Howard League report author
The institution was labelled England's most violent prison by the Prison Reform Trust (PRT) earlier this month.

Staff assaulted

A spokesman for the Prison Service said the incident was contained "very quickly".

He said: "There was never any danger to the public and there were no injuries to any prisoners although one officer was slightly injured."

Acting governor Kevin Lockyer said: "I would like to congratulate the staff of the prison for the professional and dedicated way they helped to resolve the incident."

The privately-run 30m institution opened three years ago - but, in the past year, three quarters of staff and prisoners have been assaulted.

This compares with an average of just 10% at other jails.

'Volatile prisoners'

The Howard League report published on Tuesday identified problems at the prison including high levels of violence and low levels of staffing.

It said the root of the problems there was an inability to recruit and retain staff because of poor pay and conditions offered by operators Premier Custodial Services.

Wing officers at Ashfield start on 15,250 rising to 16,250, whereas officers in public sector jails start on 17,129 and this increases to a maximum of 24,497.

The report's author Charlotte Day said: "There have been acute difficulties recruiting and retaining staff.

"Simply to employ the requisite numbers of people, Premier has been taking on staff without any previous experience of dealing with young people or of working in a custodial environment."

Recruitment drive

A statement from Premier acknowledged problems recruiting and keeping staff, blaming the high cost of living in Bristol.

It said: "A recruitment drive has been highly successful and we now have 40 new officers in training.

"When they graduate, our custody level will be above full strength and additional new appointments have also been made."

Prison Service director general Martin Narey used special powers in May 2002 to remove the governor of Ashfield and replace him with a Prison Service governor.

At the time, Mr Narey said there were fears Premier may "lose effective control" of the 400-inmate jail.

A full internal investigation is being carried out into the latest disturbance.


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