Concerns over young offenders' unit at HMP Littlehey

Serious failings in the setting up of a young offenders' institution (YOI), which saw a serious disturbance involving 60 inmates earlier this year, have been highlighted in a report.

The £85m YOI at HMP Littlehey, near Huntingdon, opened in February 2010.

The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) report questions whether government pressure forced it to open when "not ready" and with a shortage of trainers.

The Prison Service said the report will be "fully considered by ministers".

In a statement issued with the report the IMB asked whether political pressure by the then Labour government caused "a prison to be opened before it was properly completed, thus causing unnecessary risk to staff and prisoners alike".

'Limited training'

The IMB report said the prison was not ready for opening and that because a large number of extra staff were needed, many of them were new and inexperienced.

The report said there was "severely limited" education provision due to a shortage of education staff, and no workshops or a library.

Helen Boothman, chair of the IMB for HMP/YOI Littlehey, told the BBC of her concerns at the "lost opportunities" to help cut reoffending during its first year of operation.

"The shorter sentences of those in the YOI (aged between 18 and 21) means that there is only so much time to influence their behaviour," she said.

"To have them lounging about, not doing anything, is a waste."

She called for a national strategy to deal with youth offenders, a group which has some of the highest numbers of reoffenders.

She added the Prison Service needed to learn the lesson of previous building programmes for young offender institutions.

In January this year two prison officers were injured in a disturbance at the YOI involving 60 inmates.

Since then the unit has greatly improved its provision of training, said Ms Boothman, who praised the work of the governor.

A Prison Service spokesman said: "We thank the Independent Monitoring Board at HMP and YOI Littlehey for their report, which will be fully considered by ministers. We will respond to the board in due course."

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