Aylesbury’s young offenders’ prison is violent and unsafe, with long periods of lock-up and inactivity causing inmates to become frustrated and aggressive, according to a damning report.
Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, whose report was published today, said the jail in Bierton Road has deteriorated since its last inspection, with particular failings in safety, decency and purposeful activity.
It holds up to 444 inmates aged 18 to 21 who are amongst the most dangerous young men in the country, many serving life sentences.
Mr Hardwick said: “There was too little to motivate young men, or to encourage their personal investment in their futures while at the prison.
“Staffing shortages were a chronic weakness but it was hard to see how HMYOI Aylesbury could progress until there was a fundamental improvement in the quality of learning, skills and work offered.”
Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at pressure group the Howard League for Penal Reform, said the report showed ‘an urgent need for change’.
He said: “Aylesbury is a dire, dangerous, disastrous prison succeeding only in making young people worse. It is meant to be a training prison but nothing could be further from the truth, and its deterioration is hardly surprising given the deep staffing cuts that it has been forced to contend with.
“Our legal team, which works with young men in Aylesbury, has reported that the fear and imminence of violence is palpable in the prison – even on the segregation unit, where prisoners are supposed to be safe.
“It cannot be right that young people are held in such conditions and it should be no surprise if they go on to offend again. Today’s report into Aylesbury should be read alongside the recent Harris Review into the self-inflicted deaths of young people in custody. Taken together, they spell out the urgent need for change.”
More than half of all prisoners who responded to the inspectors’ survey said that they had felt unsafe at some point during their stay. There had been 115 assaults on prisoners and staff, as well as 46 fights, in the six months leading up to the inspection. Use of force by staff was very high and rising.
One in five prisoners was on a ‘basic’ regime – the most spartan conditions possible – and this regime was overly punitive.
Men who were not assigned to an activity received only two showers and telephone calls a week, as well as shorter visits. Unemployed prisoners on the basic regime got little more than four-and-a-half hours a week out of their cell.
The segregation unit was poor and conditions had deteriorated since the last inspection. A large number of young men had been held there for months. Inspectors found that too little was being done to help prevent psychological deterioration caused by long periods in segregation.
Staff and managers told inspectors that 60% of prisoners in segregation had refused to be returned to the main prison because they felt unsafe. They were waiting either to be transferred to another prison or to be released at the end of their sentence.
Inspectors found that the lack of training on offer was ‘perhaps Aylesbury’s greatest failing’.
They discovered that between 30 and 40 per cent of young prisoners were locked up during the working day. Many classes and workshops were closed because of staff shortages.
Michael Spurr, chief executive of the National Offender Management Service, said: “Staffing shortfalls have had a serious impact on the quality of the regime provided at Aylesbury.
“We are recruiting more staff and have put an action plan in place to address the recommendations made by the Chief Inspector in this report.
“The Governor will receive the support he needs to urgently improve the prison over the coming months.”
David Lidington, MP for Aylesbury, said: “I am very concerned by the Prison Inspectorate’s report on Aylesbury YOI.
“Aylesbury is a high-security prison. Most of the young men sent there have been convicted of very serious violent or sexual offences. Managing them will always be a difficult, challenging job and I have a lot of respect for the YOI staff who carry out that responsibility.
“At the same time, the public has a right to expect that prisons will be safe, secure institutions with effective policies to prevent and punish violence and drug abuse.
“I shall be writing to the Prisons Minister, Andrew Selous, to ask for all appropriate action to be taken to address the problems that the inspectors have identified.”