SAFETY at the young offenders’ institution at Littlehey Prison in Perry has improved markedly in the last year, but the prison’s independent monitoring board is concerned that a lack of purposeful activity means that between 20 and 25 per cent of the 18-21-year-olds remain locked up during the working day.

"Some of them are just sleeping their way through their sentences," the board's chairman, Helen Boothman, told The Hunts Post this week. "The reality is a long way from [Justice Secretary] Ken Clarke's prisoners working a 40-hour week.

"There's a lack of proper thinking for this age group, which is the largest for re-offending by far. There's no strategy for them."

Mrs Boothman was also critical of inadequate provision for sex offenders, who make up 88.5 per cent of the 740 inmates of the Category C adult provision at Littlehey.

"Around three-quarters of sex offenders are in denial about their offences, some with appeals pending. This means that these men cannot participate in group therapy programmes.

"Apart from a 'thinking skills' course, this group of men have no interventions to help them to reduce their risk of re-offending. There is an existing award-winning 'A- Z' course aimed at those men who are in denial of their offence, but the board understands that, due to a lack of trained staff, this programme is not available at HMP Littlehey.

"The board considers the actual number of sex offenders receiving intervention treatment related to their crime to be extremely low at only eight per cent a year."

The board also complains that 77 single cells in the adult prison have been adapted to accommodate more than one man.

But Mrs Boothman stressed that the majority of problems found at Littlehey were the result of national policy, particularly under-resourcing and outsourcing, rather than local management.

They included weekend lunches served at 10.45am and evening meals at 4pm.

"Mealtimes are designed around staff rota. That's bizarre when among the purposes of prison are to keep people secure and rehabilitate them.

"So much is now provided by third parties that the governor has less and less influence, for example over healthcare, education and resettlement services. It's going to make it very hard for a governor to be in control.

"But the biggest thing is that it's now safe for prisoners, staff and visitors, and the relationships between young offenders are now great. A lot of hard work has gone into it. The number of lads on association at any one time has been reduced.

"Once the basics are right, such as building trust, you can build on that, such as the work being done on the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, which has them sleeping in the prison grounds."

Mrs Boothman was also enthusiastic about the quality of the of the training in the adults prison, such as "brilliant workshops" in welding, industrial cleaning, car paint spraying, car mechanics and music technology.

"We hope that, when they are released, this is something they could get involved in."

She was also impressed by the extent to which prisoners accepted responsibility for each other, including 'orderlies' who looked out for prisoners with disabilities and the large number of older men.

The board's report also recorded the variety of nationalities among Littlehey's prisoner population.

In the young offender institution, an average of 20 per cent were foreign nationals and more than 55 per cent were black of from ethnic minorities. The young offenders came from 35 nationalities and spoke 31 languages as mother tongues.

The category C prison embraced 49 nationalities with 42 languages, with 16 per cent of the population being foreign nationals and one in three black or from ethnic minorities.