Prison staff “refused to display” Stonewall posters for young offenders

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Prison staff at the Feltham Young Offenders Institute refused official recommendations to display positive images of gay and bisexual relationships to inmates, according to a report released today.

During an inspection of the centre in London last year, the independent Inspectorate of Prisons suggested “positive gay and bisexual images should be displayed across the establishment, as well as information about sources of support and help”.

But after an unannounced follow-up visit in July of this year, the Inspectorate says the recommendation was “not achieved” due to opposition by prison staff.

The report says: “There was still a lack of positive images of same sex relationships around the establishment. We were told that plans to display the Stonewall ‘Some people are gay. Get over it’ posters had been opposed by some staff.”

The Inspectorate had found that a support group for young gay people, PRIDE, was held “whenever there were young people who wanted to attend it”.

The report adds: “All young people were told about it on induction, which provided an opportunity for young people to offer information about their sexual orientation if they wished.”

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform said, “It is unacceptable that staff have opposed, and consequently refused, to put up positive gay and bisexual images in Feltham.

“Homophobic crime is not monitored inside prisons yet there is evidence that it is endemic. The charity has been told that complaints are ignored and disparaged by staff.”

Feltham is divided into a facility for inmates ages 18 to 21 and a facility for those aged 15 to 18. The follow-up inspection only examined the younger age group’s part of the institution.

Nick Hardwick, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, writes in the report’s introduction that the prison “continues to operate reasonably well, working with often volatile young people in a challenging environment”.

He adds: “This does not however, negate the fact that the progress and improvement we have previously described has stopped, and in significant areas regressed. There is a clear need to re-focus the prison’s work on equality within a diverse population, basic standards of cleanliness require improvement and there is a need to re-energise elements of the resettlement strategy.”

France Crook added: “It is important that young people have a diversity of positive images at a formative time in their lives so that their own sexual development and their attitude to others is healthy and safe.

“The Howard League for Penal Reform is intending to launch a major national inquiry into sex in prisons next year and will be particularly focusing on this issue.

“Just because prisons are archaic doesn’t mean our attitude should be.”

When asked about the reported opposition to posters, a Prison Service spokesperson told “We have successfully piloted a scheme that collects information on prisoners’ sexual orientation in many prisons, which is understandably a sensitive issue.

“Guidance developed from this pilot will be issued to all prisons in the coming months. This information will further help us meet the needs of lesbian, gay and bisexual prisoners.”

In 2010, an inspection of HMP Dartmoor found “overt” homophobia among prison staff, with gay inmates reportedly being referred to as “girls” or “ladies”.