Old lags ask to leave `soft jail'

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The Independent Online
HARDENED PRISONERS have asked to be removed from a private jail because conditions are too nice and the staff are too friendly. The shock for some prisoners transferred to the relaxed and spotlessly clean Wolds prison, Britain's first private jail, proved so unsettling they asked to go back to prisons characterised by the more familiar "mutual antipathy" between staff and inmates.

In a report today on conditions at the Group 4-run prison, at Brough, on Humberside, Sir David Ramsbotham, Chief Inspector of Prisons, said excellent staff-prisoner relations had created a humane, safe and caring community.

Inmates were on first-name terms with staff, who addressed them by name or "Mr", shared meals and treated them as individual human beings.

The reception process was "no more threatening than checking in at the airport", and bullying, drug-use and graffiti were uncommon. Sir David reported that for most prisoners the "continuously polite and cheerful approach acted as a balm", giving them renewed hope and setting them off on the path to rehabilitation.

Many hardened prisoners found themselves relaxing their guards and "opening up". But for some the shock was too great:Wolds was not a "proper" jail.

Sir David said: "They often asked to be transferred out to a place where a degree of mutual antipathy existed and they could survive." He said the Wolds regime was not soft and indiscipline was dealt with sharply. His praise for the jail, which opened in 1992 and holds 400 remand and medium-security prisoners, comes days after he attacked the negative, hostile and uncooperative culture adopted by some staff in many public- sector jails.

Group 4 said it was delighted with the inspector's verdict that privately run prisons had "shown their worth".

The Wolds director, Alison Rose-Quirie, said: "This very positive report gives independent recognition of the excellent work that can be achieved with prisoners by a well-motivated and dedicated staff. The report is a credit to all working in the prison."