Convicted rioters victimised by other prisoners, relatives say

 

Conditions inside young offenders' institutions are deteriorating in the wake of the riots as the prison population reaches a new high and courts continued to remand large numbers of young people behind bars.

Relatives and solicitors acting on behalf of teenagers inside juvenile prisons have told The Independent of worsening conditions, with attacks on suspected rioters, overcrowding in cells and long periods of detention designed to separate riot prisoners from others.

One mother, whose teenage son is serving a sentence at Isis Young Offender Institution in Thamesmead, described how he was assaulted by inmates who thought he was a rioter. "They thumped him right in the face," she said. "He's not one of the rioters. But because he arrived on the same day as some of the rioters those inside attacked him." The mother, who asked to remain anonymous, said cells had mattresses placed on the floor for new arrivals. "Those cells are tiny," she said. "The person on the floor will have their head right next to a toilet."

Paul Mathew, a lawyer for the firm GT Stewart who represents a 15-year-old suspected rioter remanded in custody at Feltham Young Offenders Institute, said prison authorities were keeping looters apart from those already inside. "Those suspected of rioting are being held separate from the rest of the population for their own safety," he said. "I asked my client what he did all day and he told that they are almost always in lock-up. There seems to be no education or training. We're creating criminals of the future."

With thousands of people remanded into custody following this month's riots, the prison population has expanded for the past three weeks in a row. Figures released by the Ministry of Justice showed that there are currently 86,821 behind bars, an increase of 167 on last week's record figure of 86,654.

Finding spare beds is a problem in London and the South-east. The Prison Reform Trust has received reports of suspected teenage rioters from the capital being transported as far as Wetherby Prison in Leeds and Hindley near Manchester.

Juliet Lyon, director of the trust, says the sheer number of teenage rioters being remanded into custody is compounding existing problems. "Staffing levels are barely adequate at the best of times," she said. "A high number of first-timers will increase risk. Young people are frequently held far from home and bussing youngsters from Feltham to Yorkshire, for example, will make family visits very difficult."

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice denied the allegations that suspected rioters were being held separately from other inmates at Feltham or that there was a lack of space at Isis. "Those people suspected or convicted of rioting are treated in the same way as other prisoners and there have been no assaults other than some scuffles two weeks ago," she said. "Neither of the allegations concerning Isis is true." The MoJ did admit that juveniles from London had been moved to the North-west. "They will be moved as space becomes available in the south."

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