A Prison Service spokeswoman confirmed yesterday that the controversial scheme was under consideration. 'There is a review into the rules and regulations on the separation of prisoners,' she said. 'It is still at the consultative stage.'
Prison officers warned that young offenders could be corrupted, bullied and sexually abused by older criminals. They also added there was a danger of sex between male and female inmates - a problem highlighted last week by allegations that a woman at Broadmoor special hospital was made pregnant by another patient. Prison reformers said that the plans might be in breach of European law.
In theory, different groups would be kept in separate blocks within the jail. But in what is being seen by many as a pilot project for the mixing of prisoners, both adults and young men at Moorlands young offenders' institution near Doncaster are to share gym and showers, plus lessons in classrooms and workshops.
Two blocks in the jail for under-21-year-olds will be turned over to adult offenders next month, despite protests last week from prison officers.
Paul Sullivan, spokesman for the national Prison Officers' Association, said: 'We have a sense of foreboding about letting experienced criminals who may have spent most of their lives in jail share showers with boys. It's a recipe for sexual exploitation. Because of the Government's obsession with privatising and cut-backs, we do not have enough officers to patrol the showers at all times.'
Officers inside the prison have raised their fears with the governor but were told that they could not reverse Home Office policy.
One, who did not want to be named, said: 'There's a danger that with older offenders here, we will become a university of crime. We don't like the idea of naive, young car thieves listening to and being manipulated by experienced robbers.
'The introduction of adults will bring a new pecking order to the jail. Young prisoners could be used to create diversions if adults want to steal in the workshop. We have tried for three years to promote the welfare of young offenders and now all our hard work is going to be thrown away.'
The Home Office wants to stop adult and young, male and female, and convicted and remand prisoners being held in separate prisons because it is an expensive use of space.
Women make up 1,200 of the prison population of about 45,000, and there are about 5,000 young men. These imbalances mean that there can be empty cells in women's and young offenders' prisons, while men are being held at great cost in police cells because adult male jails are overcrowded.
Officials argue that it would be an 'efficient' use of space to keep all types of prisoners in the same jail, particularly as two men's prisons - Durham and Pucklechurch - already have wings for women.
Mixing could also be presented as meeting the recommendation of Lord Justice Woolf's inquiry into the 1990 Strangeways riots that prisoners should be kept in 'community' jails as close to their homes as possible, rather than in remote specialist prisons.
Stephen Shaw, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said the Home Office plans and the changes at Moorlands could break the Council of Europe's Prison Rules, which Britain has agreed to uphold. Rule 11 states: 'Young prisoners shall be detained under conditions which as far as possible protect them from harmful influences and which take account of needs peculiar to their age.'
He said: 'There is an advantage in mixing prisoners and ensuring they are closer to the homes. But against that we have to balance the danger that youngsters will be led into a lifetime of crime by adults.'Reuse content