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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 October, 2003, 12:14 GMT 13:14 UK
Riot prison 'short of staff'
Lewes Prison
The prison had been praised in some areas in a report this year

Prison chiefs have been criticised over the riot at Lewes jail on Tuesday night.

The Prison Officers' Association (POA) has blamed staff cuts and the mixing of adult prisoners and young offenders for the disturbance which involved about 30 inmates.

And the local MP has called the prison a "tinderbox waiting to be set alight" because he claims the staff-to-prisoner ratio is too low.

One member of prison staff needed treatment for minor injuries after the inmates went on a rampage just before they were due to be locked up on Tuesday night at 2000 BST.

'More volatile'

They smashed up two wing offices and damaged the wing itself by flooding it and breaking windows.

It took until about 0130 BST on Wednesday before order was restored at the prison.

Andy Darkin, from the POA, which represents staff at Lewes, said the disturbance followed an argument between two adult prisoners and staff over medication.

But he said the situation only escalated when young offenders on the wing joined in.

Norman Baker
Norman Baker is a Liberal Democrat MP for the Lewes constituency
He said adults and young offenders should not be on the same wing as it was a breach of safety measures.

"Young offenders take action first and think later and are lot more volatile than adult prisoners," he said.

Speaking to the BBC, Lewes MP Norman Baker, said: "I expect the long term problem is that in Britain's prisons we have 70,000 prisoners in 2003 compared to about 40,000, 10 to 15 years ago and very few prisons to cater for this.

"So Lewes, like many other prisons in the country, has too many prisoners, not enough staff and is quite frankly a tinderbox waiting to be set alight."

Some inmates could face criminal charges because of the disturbance which has been called "concerted indiscipline". Staff had to retreat from the wing when they situation became uncontrollable and special teams were brought in from local prisons.

The Home Office said 17 inmates were transferred from the prison after the riot and the amount of damage caused was being calculated.

A Prison Service spokeswoman said it was not yet clear what caused the trouble but an internal investigation was being launched and the cost of the damage estimated.

Figures from the Home Office show the number of inmates at Lewes prison exceeds the comfortable level by eight prisoners but is within the safety limit by more than 20.

Lewes prison is a category B prison built in 1853 and rated 132 out of 133 in the prison performance league tables last year.

The prison had been praised this year in a report by the Board of Visitors for improvements in suicide prevention and drugs.

Inquiry after prison riot
08 Oct 03  |  UK
Prison praised despite problems
01 Jul 03  |  Southern Counties

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