'Doncatraz' fails on health care

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THE American-controlled management of the Doncaster private jail where a 20-year-old man hanged himself 10 days ago has been severely criticised by Whitehall for presiding over an inadequate health system for juvenile and adult inmates.

In a confidential report to the Home Office's Prisons Board, Dr Rosemary Wool, the Government's director of prison health services, said she was concerned that there were no medical staff with experience in state prisons: the one nurse with a background in prison care was sacked when it was found he had a criminal record.

Nurses were frightened of interviewing prisoners alone, Dr Wool added. She was also worried that staff shortages meant the senior medical officer in the prison had to watch over inmates who were considered suicide risks because no one else was available.

Shaun Webster, 20, was found hanging from a sheet in the jail, which has been nicknamed 'Doncatraz' by its inmates. The prison said it did not consider he needed a special suicide watch. His lawyer said that before Webster went to Doncaster, a nearby state jail had recognised that he might try to take his life and kept him under observation.

Doncaster prison was opened nine weeks ago, and has been plagued with problems. A Home Office weekly report, which lists all the violent incidents in the 130 jails in England and Wales, shows that three of the 19 outbreaks of trouble in the week ending 14 August were at Doncaster.

Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, said conditions in the jail were getting 'so bad' that probation officers might soon stop visiting prisoners. 'In many cases our members have had to wait hours before staff bring them a prisoner due to appear in court, and our managers cannot afford to allow expensive time to be wasted like that.'

The contract to manage Doncaster is jointly owned by the Wackenhut Corporation of Florida and Serco, a services company.