‘Serious concerns’ about staff homophobia at Dartmoor prison

Jessica Geen July 1, 2010
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An inspection of HMP Dartmoor has raised serious concerns about “overt” homophobia amongst the prison’s staff.

According to the report, published today, gay prisoners told inspectors that staff referred to them as “girls” or “ladies” and one was handed a gay magazine in a brown paper bag because a prison officer said he did not want to touch it.

Although no formal complaints had been made by gay prisoners, the report said inspectors heard “consistent” accounts of “overtly homophobic” views and attitudes from some staff.

A survey of inmates found four per cent regarded themselves as gay or bisexual, which equated to roughly 23 of the 587 adult men held at the category C institution..

The report also found worrying staff attitudes to other minority groups, including accounts of prison officers refusing to push wheelchairs.

It said that there was a “significant group of staff who had no interest in assisting prisoners, and were said to be uncaring and, in some cases, obstructive and rude”.

The report continued: “Prisoners gave many anecdotes and examples of unprofessional, and even delinquent, behaviour by staff.

“They said such staff were dismissive and disrespectful, and gave examples of inappropriate language used over the public address system, homophobic behaviour, a determination not to use preferred names or titles, and an unpreparedness to push prisoners in wheelchairs.”

The report added that one positive development was the creation of a gay and bisexual prisoner representative, while the prison had made contact with a local gay group in order to plan staff training on the issue.

Dartmoor was the subject of an “extremely critical” inspection report in 2002 and a follow-up inspection in 2008 found little progress.

The latest report found that a third of prisoners felt unsafe, while limited staff supervision gave little confidence that violent incidents were reported, monitored or prevented.

Dame Anne Owers, Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “This is a poor inspection report, raising some issues of serious concern. Dartmoor shows the necessity of continued and robust management in prisons with historically poor cultures.

“That was a clear warning at the time of the last inspection. It was not heeded: inappropriate language and behaviour had not been effectively challenged, especially in the area of diversity, and the weaknesses identified had not been tackled.

“A new management team had begun to make progress, but from an even lower base than that recorded at the last inspection. They will need greater and continuing support at area and national level if Dartmoor is to become, and stay, an effective and decent training prison.”

Speaking to the Plymouth Herald, Dartmoor governor Tony Corcoran denied the prison would close.

He said: “It is a poor report but it comes from an even lower base. Since I came here there have been numerous changes, but it isn’t something that happens overnight. The 2008 report identified many things we have already put right, such as institutional disrespect — things like cells not furnished correctly and graffiti on walls.”

He said no prison officers had lost their jobs but a “small minority” had gone through disciplinary procedures.

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