Overcrowding pressure on Norwich jail

Overcrowding and lack of investment are undermining attempts to rehabilitate prisoners in Norwich - despite efforts to improve conditions at the city's jail.

Overcrowding and lack of investment are undermining attempts to rehabilitate prisoners in Norwich - despite efforts to improve conditions at the city's jail.

A report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons published today represents a first major blow to new justice secretary Lord Falconer who yesterday took charge of a prison service described as “crisis-ridden”.

Bullying, inadequate accommo-dation and lack of education opportunities are all highlighted in the report which follows a recent unannounced spot-check on the 824-inmate jail.

In her report, chief inspector Anne Owers said: “Norwich displayed, in microcosm, the problems of an overcrowded, crisis-ridden prison system. Its staff and managers, despite their best efforts, were rowing hard against a strong tide, but drifting backwards.”

Governor James Shanley said that while many challenges remained, the report acknowledged progress had been made in key areas such as reducing suicide and self-harm and addressing alcohol and drug problems.

Among the key issues is the continued use of the Victorian Gurney wing. The wing was condemned and scheduled for demolition only to be reopened by order of the Home Office in an attempt to address the nation's prisons crisis.

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It is hoped prisoners will be moved elsewhere by the end of July and Mr Shanley revealed construction work on a new £18m 180-bed wing along with an adjoining three-storey building will start in January.

He said: “This will go some way to giving us the modern accommodation we need. However, further improve-ments are needed. The young offenders' unit is not fit for purpose.”

The unit, which houses 18 to 21 year olds, came in for particular criticism with 61pc of inmates saying they felt unsafe. Up to now, vulnerable prisoners, such as sex offenders, have been housed alongside new inmates and those that had been segregated due to bad behaviour. Work is under way to improve the unit by introducing a separate area for persistent bullies.

Jill Lacy, head of the young offenders' site, said 50pc of prisoners in the unit are guilty of violent offences while 51pc are housed away from their home town, often leading to difficulties. A lack of space - particularly for exercise and education - increased pressure.

The report also found more than half the young adults, and just under 40pc of adults, were locked in their cells during the core day. No workshops were available for young adults, there were only 85 part-time education spaces for them, and there was no full-time vocational training.

Mrs Owers said: “The failure to close Gurney wing, the inability to provide sufficient skills training, the pressure on resettlement work, and the unacceptable situation of indeterminate-sentenced prisoners - all these factors combined to undermine attempts to move Norwich forward as a community prison that could contribute effectively to public protection.”

Phil Wheatley, director general of the Prison Service, said: “I accept that Norwich is under operational pressure as a result of the rising national population and limited resourcing to fund major improvements to services. I am pleased that, in spite of this, significant improvements have taken place.”

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