Lives could be at risk at prison

A PRISON watchdog has warned that young lives could be at risk in smoke-filled cells in a Suffolk prison where officers are not able to use breathing apparatus.

A PRISON watchdog has warned that young lives could be at risk in smoke-filled cells in a Suffolk prison where officers are not able to use breathing apparatus.

Short duration breathing apparatus is available at Warren Hill closed prison, Hollesley, near Woodbridge, but national issues over the use of the equipment prevent it being used.

The Board of Visitors at Hollesley alerted the Prison Service's director general several months ago about the problem - but no answer has been found to solve issues over training.

''We understand that the standards of training and the number of trained staff needed at any one time cannot be met. In the case of a smoke filled cell either the inmate risks being overcome or an officer might well enter to save him at risk to himself.

''We have contacted the director general about this problem which it appears also concerns him but to which he has as yet no answer. We hope the Prison Service is working really hard to achieve a solution,'' said the Board's annual report.

At Warren Hill young inmates are in locked cells with barred windows. A Home Office spokesman said yesterday: ''We recognise there is an issue over the training of staff to operate all of the equipment which we are working hard to address.''

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At the open prison Michael Wood, governor, stressed that health and safety regulations played an important role and were often reviewed.

He said the employment of a full-time fire officer and a full-time health and safety advisor demonstrated the commitment and importance placed on these issues.

Mr Wood said: ''We take health and safety very seriously. Evacuation plans are in place and they were last reviewed in July 2002 and they are subject to ongoing review. We do have evacuation tests and we do have contingency plans exercises.''

In the open prison prisoners have their own room key and Mr Wood said the breathing apparatus was not a requirement because inmates could exit through their door or climb out of their unbarred window.

Mr Wood added that fire safety awareness training was held and staff attended health and safety meetings. The prison had some retained firemen on the staff.

The report, by the then Board chairman Jane Stearn, said: ''This (health and safety) important subject is not always given the priority we should like and suffers rather from apathy. Meetings are poorly attended, including by management, resulting in standards suffering.

''Whereas all the units have had their statutory evacuation rehearsal, the administrative block has been waiting for the plans to be rewritten for over two years, hence no practice. Fire safety awareness training has fallen down and neither uniformed nor civilian staff have had the training this year.''

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