Fury at 'luxury' prison life of youths

THE country's worst juvenile offenders are living a life of luxury inside one of Suffolk's jails, a former prison worker has claimed.

Anthony Bond

THE country's worst juvenile offenders are living a life of luxury inside one of Suffolk's jails, a former prison worker has claimed.

Helen Stanmore, 52, said prisoners at Warren Hill jail at Hollesley, near Woodbridge, were living “a holiday camp” lifestyle in which no expense is spared.

She said teenage murderers, including those who carry out violent stabbings in London, have access to 50-inch plasma screen televisions, arcade games and can even choose individual toilet seat covers for their en-suite bathrooms.

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The former substance misuse worker said prisoners had Nintendo Wii consoles before they were available on the high street and can regularly order items from Argos catalogues.

Her claims come after the EADT revealed last week that almost �100,000 was paid out in compensation by the taxpayer to Suffolk's prisoners in the past four years.

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“It is a cushy life. It beggars belief what a comfortable life they have,” said the mother-of-two from Ipswich.

“I used to be shocked by how many creature comforts the prisoners were given.

“You hear about the London knife crimes and you have prisoners who commit sometimes horrific murders but they go in there and it is a life of Riley. As long as they behave themselves they get everything.

“They get the most hi-tech stuff. It is like a sea-front arcade. No expense is spared for these young murderers. I was just annoyed when I saw the article about prisoners' compensation.

“It is a holiday camp, not a prison. They have a better life in there than what they have outside.”

After a Freedom of Information request, it emerged that one young offender at Warren Hill was recently paid �10,000 in compensation by the taxpayer after an assault by a member of staff.

Ms Stanmore said staff at the prison were “constantly worried” about being accused of assault with prisoners always looking to make claims for compensation.

“I think prisoners are taking the mickey,” she said. “They will find anything to get a claim, they have clever lawyers. One senior officer said to me that we are not allowed to touch them because they have got solicitors but if they touch us it is tough luck.

“These kids are big lads. They might be 15 but they are built like rugby players but because they are kicking off you need a certain amount of force to take them down and often they will try and sue for that.”

She said staff morale at the prison was “very poor” with little support for prison workers.

“There are instances when staff are attacked but the Prison Service say 'you work in a prison, what do you expect?”

According to Ms Stanmore, security at the prison is “shocking” with just two prison guards looking after a unit of 80 prisoners in an evening.

“They have almost no staff on at night,” she said. “If I think about security it is shocking, okay they are locked up, but I was astounded by how few staff where on at night.”

Despite not working at the prison since May last year, Ms Stanmore still has her ID badge and keys to confidential filing cabinets containing prisoner information.

“I think it is disgusting,” she said. “All they said to me when I contacted them about it was that I should post it to them but I do not think that is correct.”

During her time there, she said drugs and mobile phones would often enter prison by being thrown over the perimeter fence. On one occasion, she said drugs were found in a baby's nappy.

She claimed that cannabis is the drug most regularly used by prisoners, and described one conversation she once had with a prison officer. “He said to me that 'if they have got cannabis it keeps my night-shift quiet'”.

Asked what she thinks should be done, she replied: “I think they should be treated more like prisoners”.

THE Prison Service last night hit back at Ms Stanmore's claims, insisting Warren Hill was “anything but soft”.

A spokesman said: “Prison is about punishment and reform. It is anything but soft and it is absurd to suggest otherwise. No-one should be fooled by suggestions to the contrary. The punishment of the court is a loss of liberty by being sent to prison, which combine tough regimes with the opportunity of rehabilitation.”

The Prison Service said it has a scheme in which prisoners can earn access to certain privileges by demonstrating good behaviour.

“If they don't behave, privileges are withdrawn,” the spokesman said.

“A review of the privileges scheme removed games consoles from all prisoners except for those who have been well-behaved enough to earn 'enhanced' level.

“Those prisoners must also commit to their sentence plan and fully comply with the prison regime. All 18-rated console games have been banned from prisons since September 2008.”

When told that Ms Stanmore still had her ID badge and keys, the Prison Service said that “all prison security keys are accounted for”.

The spokesman said security was paramount and the Prison Service took security breaches very seriously.

“There are rigorous search systems in place for prisoners and perimeter areas in order to prevent illegal objects entering prisons. We will seek the conviction of any individual attempting to smuggle drugs, or any other banned item, into prison. Prisoners who break the rules will also be subject to disciplinary procedures.”

The spokesman said the Prison Service was working towards a “zero tolerance” approach to prison violence.

“We take the safety of our staff very seriously, and assaults on staff have fallen since 2006 despite an increasing prison population.”

Although he would not be drawn on Ms Stanmore's comments, Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer said he believed the prison system was “in crisis”.

He said: “If, as part of the rehabilitation scheme, people are able to have access to things like video games then I do not have any objection to that but it has to be part of a scheme which makes sure that these young people do not come back and reoffend. We have the worst reoffending rates in Europe and most people who go to prison in Britain go back to prison''.

WARREN Hill holds some of the country's most dangerous young criminals and has a capacity of 222.

It is believed that one of the two killers of Liverpool toddler James Bulger was once held there.

It opened in 1982 to accommodate Category C young offenders in a closed environment. It was part of Hollesley Bay colony. Together with the Carlford Unit (which opened in January 2000) it went all juvenile in October the same year.

In April 2002 Hollesley Bay and Warren Hill became two separate prisons, although they retained some shared services.

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