High security inmates at Cambridgeshire jail fear staff

Inmates at a jail in Cambridgeshire have been victimised, threatened and intimidated by staff, inspectors found.

Staff who made an unannounced visit to the high security HMP Whitemoor in January were told one in three prisoners felt unsafe.

Poor relationships with officers were blamed, inspectors said.

Michael Spurr, chief executive of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), said the prison was "safer and more secure" than when last inspected.

Nick Hardwick, chief inspector of prisons, found "poor staff attitudes about race and religion".

"Many prisoners said they had been victimised, threatened or intimidated by staff, particularly if they were black and minority ethnic or Muslim," he said.

'Cause for concern'

"Muslim prisoners said many staff were unsure how to relate to them without resorting to assumptions about extremism.

"Too many [60% of prisoners] told us they had felt unsafe in the prison and almost a third, significantly more than in other high-security prisons, told us they felt unsafe in the prison at the time of the inspection.

"In my view, this reflected relationships between staff and prisoners which, although improved, were still not what they should be.

"I witnessed some good interactions between prisoners and prison officers but also some that gave cause for concern and helped to explain why some prisoners were fearful."

The prison holds 452 men, all serving long sentences.

Prisoners referred to "discrimination, aggression and bullying by staff" in interviews with inspectors.

The inspectors said managers should develop a clear strategy "to deal with the underlying negative staff culture and improve relationships between staff and prisoners".

'Benefit from training'

Mr Hardwick agreed the prison had still improved since its last inspection in April 2008 but significant concerns remained.

Mr Spurr said: "The prison manages challenging and long-term prisoners, and provides good opportunities for them to address their offending behaviour.

"The governor and his staff will work hard to tackle the areas where more improvements can be made."

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "Muslim prisoners are in custody for a wide range of crimes, a small minority of which are terrorist-related.

"It is clear from this report that prison staff benefit from training to further their understanding of Muslim culture and to improve professional relationships and effective working with diverse groups."

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