Poor performance of Yorkshire prison sparks fears of jail ‘crisis’

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A DAMNING verdict on a Yorkshire prison has revealed inmates were locked up in cells without electricity or running water for more than two days amid claims of a “growing crisis” in Britain’s jails.

Privately-run HMP Doncaster, which is overseen by security giant Serco, came in for heavy criticism from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP), which found evidence of a string of failures during an inspection.

The report, which ruled the prison’s performance was “in decline”, coincided with the release of another from the Prison and Probation Ombudsman into self-inflicted deaths among young adult inmates. It found suicide risk assessments and monitoring arrangements were poor in too many cases in its examination of 80 out of 89 self-inflicted deaths of prisoners aged 18 to 24 between April 2007 and March this year.

Both reports were held up as examples of the mounting chaos in Britain’s prisons during a Labour Party summit in Westminster yesterday.

Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan told the gathering of prison governors, officers and charities: “The Government pretends all is well in our jails. But there is a yawning leadership gap under David Cameron and Chris Grayling. The Tories are in denial about the scale of the crisis and offer no solutions to tackle the mounting chaos.”

HMP Doncaster was “experiencing real drift”, according to inspectors, as levels of violence in the prison were found to be up to four times higher than in similar jails.

Violent incidents had been referred to police and in one recent case, an entire wing was damaged by fire and vandalism. The report also revealed some prisoners had been locked up with no running water or electricity for more than two days and had spent only short periods out of the cells.

Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick said: “Despite some positive features, Doncaster was a prison with much that had to be put right, some of it urgently.

“The prison was experiencing real drift and performance was in decline. Some staff seemed overwhelmed by the challenges confronting them and needed more support.”

The National Offender Management Service maintained “immediate action” has been taken in response to the inspection findings.

The summit comes after a wave of bleak figures published by the Ministry of Justice last month revealed a leap in the number of on-the-run inmates in the last year, as well as an increase in deaths in custody and a rise in the number of jails which are deemed to be “of concern”.

It emerged yesterday another inmate from Doncaster’s open prison, HMP Hatfield, was on the run after failing to return from day release on Saturday.

Ian Stirzaker, 35, originally from Bradford, was sentenced to 90 months at Bradford Crown Court in July 2011 for grievous bodily harm. Two other inmates at the open jail are still missing after failing to return in recent weeks, while a number of others have absconded but have since been arrested.

Meanwhile, the European Court of Human Rights ruled the UK has again breached prisoners’ rights by failing to give them the vote.

A group of Scottish prisoners argued the UK’s ban on them voting in the 2009 European elections was a breach.

The Strasbourg court said even though the inmates, who include sex offenders, had suffered a breach, they were not entitled to any damages.

Comment: Page 12; Bernard Ingham: Page 13.