Postcode gang allegiances ‘enormous problem’ for youth jail, says watchdog

A youth jail is battling to keep a check on gang rivalries that are so fierce some inmates say they would be powerless to stop themselves attacking members of rival groups.

“Postcode” allegiances from the outside world have presented Feltham Young Offenders Institution (YOI) (pictured) with an “enormous problem”, according to a watchdog.

It said many teenagers and young adults arrive claiming they have such serious issues with gangs that it prevents them mixing with certain individuals already in custody.

Some say they would feel unsafe living on the same unit or attending the same education classes, according to the independent monitoring board (IMB) for the YOI in west London.

The IMB’s annual report covering the year to October 2018 said: “Others say that their gang-related loyalties are so great that they would not be able to stop themselves assaulting members from a rival gang, whether they know them or not.”

Inmates who have to be kept separated are referred to as “keep aparts”.

Catering for these individuals “presents an enormous problem for the prison as ‘postcode’ gang allegiances and enmities change very frequently”, the report said.

Instances of violent behaviour take place almost every day in every part of the YOI, monitors found.

Staff reported that, in some instances, inmates run up gambling debts which they are compelled to repay by performing an act of violence on someone with whom they have no obvious grievance.

The report also noted that, for a few weeks in the summer, several residential units were left without any television signal, adding: “This happened in the middle of the FIFA World Cup tournament, which provoked a good deal of complaint.

“The works department should be congratulated for the temporary repairs they made to get signal to as many units as possible.”

The YOI is made up of two parts – Feltham A, which holds 15 to 18-year-olds, and Feltham B, which holds young adults aged 18 to 21.

IMB chairwoman Caroline Langton said: “We have raised a number of serious issues for the Governor, the Prison Service and ministers to address; however we recognise the hard work of staff throughout another difficult year for the prison.

“The board commends them all for their dedication and professionalism in caring for some of the country’s most complex young men.”

A Youth Custody Service spokeswoman said: “The safety and welfare of every young person at Feltham is the Governor’s top priority and while there are significant challenges, progress is being made.

“Feltham has increased its staff numbers and has a dedicated unit to support the most vulnerable children to ensure they feel safe and supported.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Steve Parsons / PA Wire.