Cost cutting threat to prison unit

SERIOUS concerns have been raised about the future of a Suffolk prison unit which houses the country's worst juvenile offenders.

Simon Tomlinson

SERIOUS concerns have been raised about the future of a Suffolk prison unit which houses the country's worst juvenile offenders.

In a report published today, the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) said The Carlford Unit at Warren Hill could be closed down in a cost-cutting drive by the government.

While the report identified a number of areas for improvement, it praised the Carlford Unit as “a rare and highly valuable national resource” for dealing with the most serious offenders under the age of 18.

In 2008, the Guardian Public Servant of the Year Award went to Lee Peck, at that time the principal officer in charge of the unit, which houses 29 inmates.

However, the report claims the unit could become “an almost accidental casualty of the drive for economy, prison by prison, across the national estate.”

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Earlier this year, then prisons minister David Hanson said plans for the unit were to be reconsidered, but the IMB fears the subsequent change of minister could throw its future into question again.

The report said the “reducing resources and chronic shortage of staff” made Warren Hill a demanding place to run, but found that staff showed care and practical concern for the inmates.

The prison, at Hollesley near Woodbridge, has come under fire in recent months after current and former workers claimed the inmates were living a “holiday camp” lifestyle.

But the IMB inspection, which took place between June 2008 and May this year, found that inmates at the Carlford Unit, situated about half a mile from the main Warren Hill site, benefited from the “enrichment experiences” on offer.

During the inspection, some of the juveniles, including those serving life sentences, spent an afternoon with a group of Tibetan Monks who spoke about their way of life.

One programme that came in for particular praise was a parenting course for fathers and expectant dads, which enabled them to record stories to send to their child.

Among the problems identified was the way inmates were treated when they first arrived at the prison because they were housed alongside those who were being punished for bad behaviour.

“Experience shows that the first night is when a young person is most likely to commit self-harm,” the report added.

A planning application for a new building of 60 cells, which could solve the problem, has been submitted, but the IMB is worried it will be scrapped in the next round of government cuts.

Other issues include racist graffiti on cell walls, a lack of food options for ethnic minorities and the use of an offensive racist word in songs sung on music courses.

The IMB, which visited the prison 261 times in the last year, is looking to recruit new members. Anyone who is interested is asked to call 01394 633645 or visit www.imb.gov.uk.