'Appalling' conditions at young offenders' institute

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The Independent Online

A prisons watchdog has criticised "appalling" conditions at a young offenders' institute (YOI), it emerged today.

The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) for Glen Parva Young Offenders Institute in Leicester found some parts were in a poor state of repair, including leaks in plumbing from cell toilets.

Its report, which covers December 2008 to November 2009, said the YOI was operating "within the confines of a sprawling campus of largely shabby buildings particularly in the North end, which continue to degrade over time, despite the best efforts of the management and staff to maintain a reasonable, respectable and clean environment for the prisoners".

The report from the board found conditions in some parts were "unacceptable" for both prisoners and staff.

The problems were found to be in Glen Parva's North end - which consists of five residential units built in the 1970s by prisoner labour.

Two of the units are no longer used as accommodation due to poor construction, but three remain.

The IMB report said: "The three remaining occupied units making up the North end are in an appalling condition with nearly all windows servicing the toilet area either sealed off or left with no glass.

"The most concerning element is the plumbing for the integral toilets that runs down the inside of the buildings and is accessed by cupboards outside every cell.

"These are in a very poor state of repair resulting in water residue seeping through the walls and a horrible smell that fills the corridors and cells on regular occasions.

"The external drainage system is also in a bad state and is likely to affect the fabric of the buildings.

"A great deal of money is being spent on 'make do and mend' being undertaken by the Works department and the associated cost is failing to resolve the totally unsatisfactory issues identified.

"These conditions are unacceptable for both staff who work in these conditions and prisoners who have to reside in these units."

The report, published on February 12, said "major improvement" was needed at the institution, which houses a mix of remand, unsentenced and convicted men aged 18 to 21.

It said there were also concerns at the waiting time for dental treatment and plans for partial closure of its hospital's inpatients department.

The board recognised some improvements and said the prison's Chaplaincy continued to fulfil its role in giving "excellent support".

Complaints were dealt with according to prison service guidelines, with 100% processed on time during November, the report said.

It also found improvements to the reception area meant prisoners had an "excellent first impression" when they arrived.

But it said improvements were being attempted "within a far from promising framework".

"Glen Parva YOI continues to operate within the confines of a sprawling campus of largely shabby buildings particularly in the North end, which continue to degrade over time, despite the best efforts of the management and staff to maintain a reasonable, respectable and clean environment for the prisoners," the report found.

"Overcrowding continues to be a problem, with the prison running at near maximum capacity most of the time.

"Whereas cell-sharing may be less important in a YOI than in an adult prison, this can at times present additional disciplinary problems for the staff.

"Pressures in the overall prison estate continue to result in the need for significant drafts of prisoners from other regions, particularly London.

"This has recently introduced an increasing level of gang rivalry, thereby adding yet another dimension to an already toxic melting pot, which threatens to undermine the good order and discipline of the establishment."

Today IMB chair John Schatz said although the units apparently did not breach any health and safety rules, he did not think it was right that anyone was living in the conditions.

He said: "Appalling to one person may not be appalling to another, but if you walk round and think, 'I am a reasonably sane human being', it just doesn't seem right that anybody should be living in those conditions, whether they are prisoners or otherwise.

"They have been sentenced by loss of their liberty. Beyond that they need to be treated in a humane and reasonable manner."

Mr Schatz said although two of the five units in Glen Parva's North end had been closed as living accommodation, others were coming close to needing to be closed.

"It is not actually a criticism of the prison," he said, "it's a criticism of the prison service that they are throwing money at it to try and maintain it when in reality it's a bit of a waste.

"It has been raised on one or two occasions. On the last one the minister responded saying the prison service were aware of it and they had looked at a rebuild but then had put it on hold because of lack of funds.

"Obviously it's still on hold and the question is how long are things going to be on hold.

"However much they throw at it the conditions will get worse and worse and worse."

Today Glen Parva's Governor Michael Wood said: "I thank the Independent Monitoring Board for their very supportive report.

"It clearly recognises the hard work of all our staff and other agencies that work within HMYOI Glen Parva, and it says many positive things about the prison's regime.

"I accept that some accommodation requires refurbishment.

"The prison's estates department work tirelessly to maintain conditions to a satisfactory level.

"All cells are certified as fit for purpose and any that are considered not to be are taken out of commission."