YOI is overwhelmed by overcrowding, says Owers

Attempts to tackle problems such as bullying and self-harm at Norwich Prison and Young Offender Institution have been “thrown off course” by the growing prison population, the chief inspector of prisons has claimed.

In a report, 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.”

She found 61% of 18- to 21-year-olds, who are housed in the YOI, said they felt unsafe, compared with 43% at the last inspection in 2005.

And although criticisms of suicide and self-harm procedures had been “fully addressed” since the last inspection, Owers found self-harm incidents among young adults, often related to bullying, had increased threefold over the past year.

Owers raised particular concerns about one unit that held a “toxic mix” of newly-arrived young men, those who were vulnerable and those on punishment. She said some of its occupants “were simply too afraid to come out of their cells”.

Resettlement work was described as limited with a decision taken not to assess any young adult with less than six months to serve.

However, the inspection found that Norwich had improved its support for prisoners in the early days of custody and there was “some very good work” addressing drug and alcohol problems.

Meanwhile, the Prison Reform Trust has launched a five-year strategy to reduce child and youth imprisonment in the UK. It will include an independent inquiry into the treatment of young offenders and their families.

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 Simeon Brody

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