Jail bullies thrive on fear and extortion

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The Independent Online
THEIR favourite targets are the fraggles, the nonces and the muppets. But anyone showing tell-tale signs of fear is a target for violence and extortion for Britain's jail bullies.

A shocking picture of the way prisoners can be victimised and exploited by other inmates has been painted in a study conducted inside prisons and published today.

The scale of the bullying alarmed the researchers from the University of Oxford Centre for Criminological Research who found that 46 per cent of young offenders and 30 per cent of adult prisoners were assaulted, robbed or threatened in any given month.

Kimmett Edgar, one of the report's authors, said: "It's one thing to take people's liberty away, but to put them in conditions where they are not safe is another thing."

The bullies have been categorised into four groups who use different tactics to intimidate prisoners they regard as weaker than themselves.

The "predators" are described as "persistent and calculating" in their efforts to obtain drugs or goods that could be exchanged for drugs. The researchers found that predators enjoyed a high profile on their prison wing and were often popular with staff.

One told the study: "Every day I go to every cell, 60 or 70 of them, and tell them to sort me out. No one refuses me."

Another group, the "fighters", specialised in violent victimisation. "Their desire was primarily for recognition rather than material gain or drugs," said the report.

Business-minded bullies, known as "traders", sold cigarettes to other inmates, luring them into debts which were often enforced with violence.

One trader told the study: "We set targets every week. We had a stock and we never wanted to dip below that stock any week. The stock was about 200 cigarettes, every chocolate on the canteen list, tins of Coke, juice ... I would estimate our profits at pounds 40 a week."

The fourth group, the "avengers", were often motivated by feuds which had begun outside prison.

The researchers found that a majority of prisoners - and particularly young offenders - felt that "some kinds" of inmates deserved to be picked on.

Most despised were the "nonces" (sex offenders), followed by the "grasses" (informers). But the researchers also complained that timid or vulnerable prisoners (nicknamed "muppets") and inmates with mental health problems (described in jail as "fraggles") were also subjected to dehumanising language which should be challenged by staff.

The researchers were, however, impressed by the efforts of prison officers in attempting to tackle the problems of bullying. They called on prisons to take greater steps to isolate bullies and move them to units within the jail where their behaviour could be addressed.

The study recommended that victims should be given access to trained counsellors and be able to pass information to staff in the knowledge that it will be treated in confidence. But according to one inmate, there was only one way to escape the bullying. "Fight back," he said. You've got to stand up to them."