Leeds jail `is an affront to dignity'

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"Unremitting and severe overcrowding" at Leeds prison has produced some of the poorest conditions seen in an English jail, the Chief Inspector of Prisons said yesterday. They were "an affront to human dignity", he said.

The exercise yard for the jail's most serious offenders was a "disgraceful cage, contaminated by human excrement and bird droppings''.

The "dark, shabby'' segregation block was infested with vermin, and an underground holding centre was "filthy and unhygienic".

"Our sympathies were for the staff - as well as the prisoners - who had to share these conditions," said Judge Stephen Tumim, in a damning report. "Leeds staff are trapped in a warehouse with apparently no chance to put things right. The prison has to develop a pride in the service it gives to the public by holding prisoners in decent conditions."

The report condemns the Victorian jail as "deeply unsatisfactory and well below standard".

Judge Tumim said the 1847 jail had an "impressive" strategic plan for the future, but "depressingly little" had changed since the last inspection in 1989: two new wings had been built but only one was occupied.

He said the prison was "bereft" of constructive work for inmates except for four industrial shops, and there were insufficient places in education classes.

When Judge Tumim inspected the jail last June, the prison population was 1,104 - well above the certified accommodation figure of 985.

Yesterday Judge Tumim said: "The failure of the Prison Service to relieve the unrelenting pressure of overcrowding is denying the governor and his staff the opportunity to work to the service's own stated vision of its task and the values to be upheld."

But Tony Fitzpatrick, Leeds's governor, said: "The report is inaccurate to label Leeds as `deeply unsatisfactory'. The prison is seeing the largest redevelopment programme in its history which is transforming prisoners' lives for the better.

"I accept that the conditions in the three Victorian wings are basic, but I cannot agree with the Inspectorate's assertion that conditions here are an `affront to human dignity'."

However, Paul Cavadino, chair of the Penal Affairs' Consortium,said the report was an indictment of the Government's "prison works" policy.

"As long as our prisons contain far more prisoners than they were designed to hold, staff will be working against the odds in attempting to rehabilitate prisoners."