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Concerns over violence at prison

Inspectors have raised fears over high levels of violence at a prison with a high population of gang members , inspectors have warned.

In 2013, there were 254 fights and assaults at Isis prison, which holds young men aged 18 to 30, with 120 in the previous six months, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) said.

Many incidents were serious and some involved gangs at the prison in south-east London, HMIP said, with a higher proportion than usual involving weapons.

There were many planned assaults involving a number of inmates against a single prisoner, and some incidents were known to be gang related, inspectors added.

Last month, figures released by the Ministry of Justice painted a bleak picture of English and Welsh prisons with high levels of violence, including attacks on prison staff hitting the highest level for six years.

Nick Hardwick, chief inspector of prisons, said: ” The location of the prison, the volatile population it holds and continuing staff shortages mean the risks and challenges it faces are significant.

“Opening any new prison is complicated and although Isis has now been open for three years it is still in a settling phase.”

In late 2013, staff shortages had led to a restricted emergency regime which although intended to be temporary, was still in place at the time of the unannounced inspection in February.

Inspectors said the restricted regime had presented a temporary solution by keeping identified gangs apart.

However, the report added this was “an unsophisticated plan and inadequate as a long-term solution”.

However, inspectors did praise the high level of prisoners – three quarters – who go into employment or training on release.

Michael Spurr, chief executive of the National Offender Management Service, said: ” Isis manages a difficult population of young adult men – many of whom are serving sentences for violence and have links with London gangs.

“The Governor and his staff have done some excellent work with the police to challenge gang affiliation and are committed to tackling and reducing violence.

“As the Chief Inspector makes clear, Isis is an improving prison. In particular, it is doing really good work to support resettlement. Three quarters of prisoners go into employment or training on release – this is crucial for successful rehabilitation.

“Recruitment is taking place to address the staff shortfalls and the prison is currently receiving detached duty support from other prisons to ensure it can deliver a consistent and safe regime.”

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: ” If we want our prisons to release young men less likely to offend again and more likely to withdraw from gangs and lead a responsible life, we have to do better than a grossly under-staffed, cash-strapped, overcrowded warehouse with a restricted regime where there are five serious assaults or fights a week.

“Time and again the Justice Secretary claims he is transforming rehabilitation, yet here is another example of a violent institution where far too many young prisoners spend the working day locked down with little or nothing to do save for half an hour of exercise.”

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