Muslim inmates living in fear at UK prison

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The Independent Online

Rising violence at one of Britain's top security jails was highlighted in an official report today.

Tensions increased at Frankland Prison, Durham, amid a growing gang culture and the arrival of convicted terrorists, according to HM Inspectorate of Prisons. The report criticised the amount of serious violence committed by inmates upon each other.

In October al Qaida terrorist Dhiren Barot was scalded with boiling oil in the prison. It followed a similar incident when fellow terrorist Omar Khyam burnt a local inmate, then claimed he did it because he was afraid he would be attacked.

Only a few weeks ago, and months after the inspection was carried out in February, a prison officer was injured during a disturbance when nine prisoners began smashing up their cells. Inspectors found the small number of "black and minority ethnic prisoners felt especially unsafe", and they were over-represented in all disciplinary procedures.

The report stated: "Understanding of, and knowledge about, Muslim prisoners was particularly weak, and there was insufficient management scrutiny of race issues in general.

HMP Frankland was described in the report as holding "extremely challenging prisoners", some of whom had severe personality disorders. The Inspectorate said: "These include prisoners who are dangerous, but also prisoners who are vulnerable.

"Inspectors found that there was no evidence of a robust violence reduction strategy, which is essential to ensure safety, order and control. There was little management analysis of data on bullying, intimidation or self-harm."

Anne Owers, Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: "High security prisons require constant and vigorous management in order safely to contain and work effectively with their challenging populations.

"Frankland's population had become even more challenging recently, with increases in gang affiliations and the arrival of a small number of convicted terrorists.

"It is unfortunate that this coincided with the absence of the governor for some months, and the resulting drift that was observable at this inspection needs urgently to be reversed."

She praised staff who worked in the Dangerous and Serious Personality Disorders (DSPD) unit and said their expertise needed to be built up in other sections of the jail.

Phil Wheatley, director general of the National Offender Management Service, said: "I am pleased that the Chief Inspector has acknowledged the excellent multidisciplinary relationships within the DSPD unit, which deals with some of the most challenging prisoners in the system.

"I am concerned about the comments raised on the safety within Frankland, however this should be seen in the context of Frankland's extremely challenging population." The issues raised in the report are currently being addressed by the Governor and staff at Frankland.

"A new Diversity and Safer Prisons Manager is now in post to ensure a focus on the matters raised by the Inspector in relation to anti-bullying and diversity."

The Prison Reform Trust said the report was a "timely warning" and the Prison Service must now rectify its failings.

Spokesman Imran Hussein said: "Anne Owers is warning of drift in key areas, particularly safety."

More needs to be done on training officers about prisoners' religious beliefs, he said.

"For prison officers to do their job properly, they need assistance and training to understand more about prisoners' backgrounds," he said.