Bullies go public for institution's open day: Stephen Ward visits a young offenders' centre criticised by prisons inspectors as it shows off attempts to reform conditions

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THERE WAS no sign yesterday of the graffiti, smelly lavatories or damaged furniture noticed by the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Judge Stephen Tumim, in his critical report. Nor of the rubbish inspectors saw strewn outside cell windows.

Feltham young offenders institution in west London had been spruced up in time for an open day yesterday, in the wake of Judge Tumim's verdict that its future was 'bleak' unless there were improvements to the reigme.

The jail looks like a motel in low-level landscaped red brick, from a distance less depressing than many modern university campuses, but with bars on every window and huge steel locks on each door.

Inside was one of the results of an earlier, even more critical report. Eight young men were sitting in a group, uniformly dressed in spotless blue sweatshirts and matching cotton trousers, discussing their attitude problems with a prison officer. They are in the new wing for bullies. Their predecessors helped to drive four teenage inmates to suicide in the last two years.

They have to dress smarter and are supervised more closely in the special wing. Five or six prison officers watch over a dozen bullies, rather than four to 50 in a normal wing. After a few weeks, their behaviour hopefully modified, the 12 return to normal conditions.

One of them, by far the most articulate and thoughtful, holds out little hope that the problem can be eradicated. 'Victims are bullied by everyone on a wing,' James Ramprey, 17, an armed robber, says cheerfully, with a slight trace of regret in his voice. 'There's one in Partridge wing at the moment. The man's going to crack in the end.' People bullied for the smallest things, he said, even for a dog-end of a cigarette, which they wouldn't touch on the outside. Others nod in agreement.

Judge Tumim's report said that, despite changes, levels of threatening behaviour were 'clearly still high'.

The governor, Joe Whitty, who is four months away from retirement, described the teenagers in his care. 'They are not young Boy Scouts or altar boys. These are the boys who make the headlines. These are the youngsters who have failed every other method of dealing with them. We finish up with them, then somehow we get the blame.'

That is why he was angry that Judge Tumim not only failed to give much credit to improvements he had made in four years, but seemed to under-estimate the magnitude of the problems. The report said the basic lifestyle of the 500- plus remand and 242 sentenced inmates remained 'unsatisfactory', with inadequate exercise, training or social contact.

Mr Whitty said: 'I reject much of what was said in the Chief Inspector's report, and I totally and utterly reject comments that were made by Judge Tumim about the state of Feltham. It gives no indication of the work we have done and where we are today.'

Since the four suicides between August 1991 and March 1992, Feltham has installed closed-circuit TV and monitors and set up the special unit. But, as Mr Whitty conceded, the sort of regime he would like to see would be far more labour-intensive, and therefore even more expensive than the pounds 15m a year that Feltham costs already.

Derek Lewis, director-general of the Prison Service, said yesterday that there would be no more money.

(Photograph omitted)