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Thursday, October 14, 1999 Published at 07:59 GMT 08:59 UK

UK: Wales

Control is 'fragile' at high-tech prison

An "undercurrent of racism and sexism" runs through Parc Prison

Control of inmates at Wales's troubled first hi-tech jail remains "fragile" a report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons has warned.

Sir David Ramsbotham said continued technology problems and anti-English racism were also marring progress at the Securicor-run Parc Prison near Bridgend, south Wales.

An inspection team went into the prison ahead of schedule after it experienced a string of disturbances and four suicides within 18 months of opening in October 1997.

BBC Wales's Nick Palit: "Since Parc Prison opened it has been beset with problems"
The report said the innovative "keyless" technology which allowed the prison to operate without traditional locks had been installed amid a "surfeit of optimism" and without enough trials to ensure it would work.

The system was still not working efficiently and an "urgent appraisal" was recommended to minimise the disruption caused to prisoners and inmates.

Despite good staff/inmate relations Sir David warned officers were not fully in control and said the situation remained "fragile".

[ image: Even prisoners complained about lack of discipline]
Even prisoners complained about lack of discipline
Even inmates complained about a lack of discipline throughout the establishment, and said some officers did not know the rules.

There were also serious concerns about a disturbing "undercurrent of racism and sexism" running through the jail.

There was abuse between English and Welsh prisoners who were in the majority and this was also targeted at ethnic minority prisoners.

Sir David said he was particularly concerned about abuse levelled at both white and black inmates moved to Parc from Feltham Young Offenders Institution in London to relieve overcrowding.

Sir David Ramsbotham: "There were considerable problems reported at Parc"
Staff were accused of being slow to intervene against allegations of racism, and sexually explicit posters and racist graffiti went unchallenged in inmates' cells.

Female staff also complained of male colleagues using inappropriate language and gestures and failing to defend them in the face of abuse from inmates.

Sir David said the jail was beginning to put its "chastening" early days behind it.

Recommendations implemented

In particular staff turnover which saw the entire senior management replaced, and had left less than a third of the staff in post for more than a year, was now slowing down.

He said: "I am confident that Parc has largely put its problems behind it and can look forward to a period of positive development under the stewardship of its director."

Securicor was fined more than £800,000 in the wake of the difficulties at the jail which has up to 920 inmates including those aged under 21 held on remand.

Prison director Bob Dixon said an action plan had been drawn up based on the report's recommendations and many had already been implemented since the inspection five months ago.

'Racism is endemic'

"What we have are a large number of particularly young offenders who, unfortunately, come from an area where racism, almost tribalism, is endemic," said Mr Dixon.

NACRO's Richard Garside: "There's a problem in the prison system of racism"
He said the problem of racism and sexism identified in the report were being taken "extremely seriously" and insisted prejudice would not be tolerated at the jail.

He welcomed the Chief Inspector's praise of positive staff/prisoner relationships, the "can-do" attitude of staff and the work underway on race relations, healthcare, suicide awareness and inmate education.

Mr Dixon, Parc's third director in two years, emerges well from the inspection. But BBC Wales has learnt that his role is to change shortly. However, he has denied that he will be leaving the prison altogether.

The National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NACRO) has expressed concern about the evidence highlighted in a Chief Inspector's report.

Nacro says racist attitudes must be tackled firmly by prison managers at all levels.

The association wants prison race relations officers to be given full support so they do not become "isolated individuals struggling against the tide".

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