Littlehey youth jail ‘should not have been allowed to open on time’

ALTHOUGH the �85million young offender institution at Littlehey Prison in Perry opened on time and within budget in February last year, it was not ready to deal with the 480 new inmates, the prison’s independent monitoring board says in its annual report today (Wednesday).

And the poor quality of the building work is already starting to show, with one wing already needing refurbishment and the gym floor revealing severe cracking. Specialist police officers in riot gear were also called to the YOI to quell a disturbance in which two guards were injured on January 11.

But there had been huge improvement at the YOI since the period covered by the report, which ended on January 31, board chairman Helen Boothman said today.

“The atmosphere and relationships [between officers and inmates] are now very different. It has been a challenge for management, but the staff are much more settled, and there are some really good initiatives starting now. Staff are enjoying working there agin,” she added.

But when the YOI opened there were insufficient trained staff familiar with the new YOI, and programmes to help the 18-21-year-old offenders go straight had not been put in place.

“The IMB report states that the prison was not ready for opening,” she said. “A significant increase in staffing (uniform and non uniform) was needed to accommodate the opening of the YOI. This meant there were many new and inexperienced staff, detached duty officers and newly-promoted managers who all needed to be trained within a short time period.

“Regimes were not specific for the 18-21-year-old population and there were no behaviour or re-settlement programmes. In addition, there was severely limited education provision due to a shortage of education staff, and no workshops or library.”

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The report today asks: “Who would expect a hospital to open with only half of its facilities available, or a new school to open with only a quarter of the teachers in post?”

Nonetheless the category C adult jail had continued to provide a safe and respectful environment for the adult prisoners, Mrs Boothman said.

“The board is impressed with the huge progress made in some areas since the last report, in particular the workshops, which are providing more meaningful vocational training.

“HMP Littlehey leads the way in their work on an elderly and disabled policy, which has led to the implementation of an OAP ‘day room’ as well as a garden specifically designed for this age group.”

Littlehey now has a total of more than 1,200 inmates of 50 nationalities, with some of the adult prisoners still sharing cells designed for one man, the board says.

The report highlights the Catch 22 plight of an elderly prisoner serving an indeterminate sentence, who cannot be considered for release until he has completed a suitable training programme – but he has not been accepted onto any offender behaviour programmes because psychologists found that his failing short-term memory meant he did not retain enough information to ensure success.

“He has been waiting for two years while his offender-manager finds a solution that all parties can agree is acceptable.”

The board asks what the prisons minister plans to do about such people.