Bullying and violent assaults 'are worse than in adult jails'

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The Independent Online

Levels of drug abuse, bullying and violent assaults in young offenders institutions are worse than in adult jails and are reaching dangerous levels, a damning report seen by The Independent says.

Levels of drug abuse, bullying and violent assaults in young offenders institutions are worse than in adult jails and are reaching dangerous levels, a damning report seen by The Independent says.

In some centres housing the country's most vulnerable teen- agers up to one in ten inmates tests positive for drugs and one in 12 has been involved in a serious assault. Three of the four worst centres for serious assaults in the entire Prison Service are young offenders institutions (YOIs,) the analysis of Home Office figures shows.

The report by the Prison Reform Trust is due to be published tomorrow and will add to the pressure on ministers to order a public inquiry into the treatment of children in custody, in the wake of The Independent's report yesterday on the death of 14-year-old Adam Rickwood. Campaigners said bullying and assaults were rife in YOIs and they warned that another tragedy was inevitable unless the system was fundamentally reformed.

One of the Prison Service's central targets states that jails and YOIs should keep serious assaults on prisoners by fellow inmates that result in someone being found guilty) to a maximum total of 1.2 per cent of a jail's population. But the rate at Onley YOI in the East Midlands was 8.79 per cent, seven times higher than the target.

Last year an inspector found young inmates shivering in sub-zero temperatures at Onley in cells deemed unfit for habitation. Anne Owers, chief inspector of prisons, said: "Levels of force remain high, as did allegations of bullying, and our own survey picked up relatively high levels of allegations of assaults."

Brockhill YOI in Worcestershire and the notorious Feltham detention centre in London also had rates of serious assault five times higher than the target. Overall, 13 of the 16 YOIs analysed for the report had serious assault rates above the target.

The Prison Reform Trust said many attacks went unreported for fear of reprisals. Enver Solomon, author of the report, said: "For many juveniles, they are unsafe, frightening and dangerous places where drugs are available and too little time is spent in constructive activity. It is not surprising that eight out of ten children who leave these places are reconvicted within two years of release."

Many YOIs are also failing to hit a central target on reducing positive drugs tests. The performance targets state that the proportion of tests that are positive should be 10 per cent or less. Seven of the 16 YOIs missed the target last year.

Nearly one in five drug tests at Brockhill was positive; 18.6 per cent were positive at Thorn Cross, near Warrington, and 15 per cent were positive at Huntercombe in Oxfordshire.

Prison Service officials insisted yesterday that conditions in YOIs had improved. It said: "It is now mandatory for prisons to develop, implement and maintain a local violence reduction strategy, which aims to promote a safe and healthy prison environment and foster a culture of non-violence."

Deborah Coles, of the charity Inquest, said: "Every time there is a death such as Adam's, the Prison Service says things have changed. We know that things are not changing and that is a national scandal."

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