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Wednesday, 5 February, 2003, 00:31 GMT
Youngsters removed from 'worst' jail
Inmates at Ashfield Young Offenders Institution
A "phased withdrawal" of inmates is planned
Hundreds of inmates are to be removed from Britain's first privately-run young offenders institution after it was condemned as the worst prison in the country.

The government's Youth Justice Board (YJB) is to pull out of Ashfield Young Offenders Institution, near Bristol, following a highly critical report by the chief inspector of prisons.

The YJB is beginning a "phased withdrawal" of 172 of the teenage boys at Ashfield leaving just 40 remand inmates at the facility, run by Premier Prison Services.

Martin Narey, director general of the Prison Service, described the institution as the worst prison in England and Wales "by some measure".

Ashfield Young Offenders Institution
The jail has been branded the worst in the country
Anne Owers, the chief inspector of prisons, condemned the jail's operator for its unwillingness to do any work which fell outside the remit of its contract with the Prison Service.

Premier's governor at the prison was removed from his post last May, but despite long-running attempts to improve conditions at Ashfield, the YJB said the jail was still not meeting expected standards.

The inspectors' report revealed:

  • some children were too frightened to leave their cells
  • officers had carried out strip searches without a chaperone
  • struggling staff relied on inmates to act as "mini officers" in the reception wing

Ms Owers said: "It was like an island, isolated from developments and expectations in the rest of the system."

Mr Narey said if there was no significant improvement he would terminate Premier's contract and ask its bankers to appoint another private sector company to run the jail.

Changes made

If that failed, he would consider bringing the institution into the public sector.

Ashfield's director, Vicky O'Dea, said: "I think the prison seriously underestimated the neediness of the prison population and the skills needed to deal with that."

She said many changes had already been made to the way the prison was run, but that the problems would not be solved overnight.

Kevin Lewis, managing director of Premier Prison Services, said: "It might be easier to walk away but I'm not going to allow that to happen.

"We will put in the resources and will expect to make some money in the long term but our reputation comes first."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Andy Tighe
"The institution was only built three years ago"
Lord Warner, Chairman, Youth Justice Board
"One of the key problems with many of these young offenders is poor educational performance"
Vicky O'Dea, governor Ashfield YOI
"The report is out of date now and the prison has moved on"
The BBC's Danny Shaw
"The level of bullying was disturbingly high"

Click here to go to Bristol
See also:

05 Feb 03 | England
04 Feb 03 | England
23 May 02 | England
Links to more England stories are at the foot of the page.


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