Jail rioters felt 'cut off'

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The Independent Online
THE Boxing Day riot in Reading jail was caused by a 'two-year failure' by the Home Office to honour a promise that prisoners would be kept near their homes, senior staff have told a confidential prison service inquiry into the violence.

Many young offenders awaiting trial smashed the gym, education block and kitchen at the remand centre because they had been taken from all over the South and West and 'dumped' in a jail miles away from their solicitors and relations, they said.

Paul Dixon, the jail's governor, has said in public that there was no grievance simmering in the prison before the riot. In private, prison service managers have complained that Reading was wrecked because the findings of the Woolf Report into the riots at Strangeways jail, Manchester, in April 1990 had not been acted on.

Lord Justice Woolf's key recommendation was that inmates should be encouraged to maintain a sense of responsibility and their links with the outside world by being put in 'community jails' close to their families. This was accepted unequivocally by the Government.

Harry Brett, general secretary of the Prison Governors Association, which represents senior staff, said that, since the report was published, remand prisoners from the South-west have been pushed further from their homes.

In the past they would have been held in Bristol and Winchester. But the young offenders' units in both jails have now been closed and youths sent to Reading in Berkshire instead. At the time of the riot there were prisoners from as far away as Minehead in Reading.

'They had been dumped there and did not give a damn,' said Mr Brett. 'They had no visits, no work to do, no interest in keeping good order. The Home Office has failed for two years after Strangeways to keep its promise that the Woolf recommendations would be implemented and we are seeing the results.'

A Home Office spokeswoman said the department could not comment while the inquiry was still going on, but pointed out that not all the ringleaders of the riot were from outside the Reading area. The Government had begun wide-ranging consultations on whether to introduce community prisons, she added.

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