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Inmates find Wolds 'civilised': A relaxed regime diffuses tension at the privately run jail criticised for 'corrupting lethargy', Adam Sage finds

DARREN was in belligerent mood, railing against the press for portraying the Wolds remand prison in Humberside as a breeding ground for drugs and violence. 'I've read so much bullshit about this place it's unbelievable,' he said. 'Just make sure you write the truth.'

Drugs? 'No more than in other prisons.' And assaults? Likewise.

After spending long periods of his adult life inside, Darren, a portly, pony-tailed Mancunian in his late twenties, reckons that he should know a good jail when he sees one. This, he says of the prison managed by the security company Group 4, is a good jail.

'We are treated like human beings for once. They talk to us in a civilised way, calling us by our first names and letting us call them by their first names. You are asked to do things, not told to.

'At other prisons I have been banged up for 23 hours a day and you can feel the tension. Everybody is ready for a situation. When I came out I was ready to jump anyone - even for looking at me the wrong way. When you come here, you can just sense the better atmosphere - the lads are relaxed.'

He went on: 'The food is decent, not great but compared to other prisons it's a lot better. They (Group 4) are doing a fantastic job.'

If the facilities were underused, it was because many inmates spent short periods of time in the Wolds waiting for their trial. Those, like himself, in for several months, were able to keep themselves occupied.

'But no matter what anyone says, we're still suffering. I'm having terrible problems with my family - it's a two-hour drive from Manchester and that puts terrible strains on us. We're still in prison, it's just that we're not treated like dogs.'

In D unit, which houses 50 men, three inmates broke off their game of pool to make similar comments. The Wolds was, they said, the best jail they had experienced, with pleasant conditions, decent cells and good relationships with the staff.

The 14 hours they spent out of their cells were largely whiled away at the pool table, with 'about 50 games a day,' one said. Elsewhere in the unit, half a dozen men were watching television and another 10 or so were lounging in their cells. The rest were in the gym or the education unit, or taking a stroll in the courtyard outside, according to the custody officer in charge of the wing.

She was alone, left to deal with the men under a system known as 'direct supervision', her safety guaranteed by a panic button on the mobile phone that she carries with her.

Did this not represent understaffing? Walter MacGowan, director of the Wolds, says that it would make little difference if there were more staff in each unit: two officers could be overpowered as easily as one.

'If you introduce more than one member of staff, you don't necessarily introduce supervision. What you do find is that staff start talking to each other rather than to the prisoners.' Like the inmates, he was adamant that there were no more drugs in the Wolds than in other jails, pointing out the difficulties of eliminating them altogether. For instance, drugs had recently been found in a baby's nappy. However, with better checks on visitors there were fewer drugs coming into the prison than when Judge Stephen Tumim, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, visited it in May, he said.