The jungle:

Prison under fire for allowing young bullies to prey on weak
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The Independent Online
Widespread bullying has turned a jail for young offenders into a "jungle" in which the "strong prey on the weak" and inmates have to "physically fight to survive", the Chief Inspector of Prisons reveals today in a highly critical report.

Sir David Ramsbotham said the report on Dover Young Offenders Institution contained what some people would consider to be "devastating" criticism of the Prison Service's inability to protect the inmates, aged from 17 to 21.

The Prison Service yesterday denied that the problem was as severe as the report suggested and said the jail had introduced a new anti-bullying strategy since his visit. Inspectors visited the former Victorian fort in May last year, but the Home Office has released the report only today.

Sir David identified the six-bed dormitories, in which the majority of the 300 young prisoners were housed, as the main reason for endemic bullying. "They were a veritable 'jungle', in which the strong preyed on the weak, and where most who entered the establishment had to physically fight to survive or exist as a vulnerable prisoner, subjected to continual intimidation and insult," he said. "Apart from offending the most basic standards of a civilised society these conditions are storing up increasing problems for the wider community."

Sir David described the plight of an inmate called Peter, who had a drug addiction and was serving 18 months for drug-related offences. On arrival, he was beaten by four other offenders who, after being placed in a segregation unit, were returned to the dormitory where Peter was housed. Three days later he was again severely assaulted twice. The following morning, he tried to commit suicide by slashing his wrists and upper arm. He is still at the jail, but lives in fear of attacks.

Sir David said in 1995 there were 42 recorded incidents of bullying, but these were "only the tip of the iceberg". He said the dormitories should be demolished. Sir David expressed concern that there was no anti- bullying strategy and that the under-resourced jail was expected to cut pounds 500,000 from its budget in the next three years. "The prime need is for [inmates] to be trained in acceptable skills, not corrupted into more criminal behaviour," he said.

In a second report, this time on the Onley Young Offender Institution, in Coventry, which houses both juveniles aged 15 to 16 and criminals aged 17 to 21, Sir David also highlights concerns about bullying. He deplores the mixing of teenage offenders with older, more experienced criminals and says the policy is "unacceptable".

In response, Brian Pollett, the governor at Dover, said he accepted there was a bullying problem, but not to the degree suggested by Sir David.

"I do not agree that [bullying] dominates the lives of the young offenders here,"he said. "Far from releasing them 'corrupted', we hope to have provided them with skills and education they can use constructively."

Richard Tilt, the director-general of the Prison Service, added that a new anti-bullying strategy had been introduced, but the rapidly rising prison population made it impractical to replace the dormitories with cells.

Paul Cavadino, chair of the Penal Affairs Consortium, commented: "This underlines yet again the serious damage caused to our prison system by the Government's policy of encouraging more custodial sentences while simultaneously cutting prisons' budgets."

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