How to beat bullies from the inside

2nd December 1994 at 00:00
Michael Prestage visits a prison which uses school-based anti-bullying tactics.

The three teenagers jailed last week for the savage beating of a fellow pupil they persistently bullied were on the receiving end of similar treatment when they arrived at a remand centre to start three-year sentences for grievous bodily harm.

It is understood fellow prisoners had read about Christopher Branner, Scott Frampton and Loui Thomas, who were convicted of beating Daniel Jewell, 15, so badly that he bled internally and could have died, and they were waiting for the threesome at the remand centre in Southampton.

While some teachers may despair about bullying, the problems in schools pale in comparison to the treatment meted out among 16 to 21-year-olds in prisons and young offenders' institutions.

Recent research revealed that a third of young offenders said they had been bullied in the previous month; one in five was bullied with varying degrees of regularity; and one in 20 was both a bully and a victim. Two-thirds said they did nothing when they saw bullying.

Last week, an inquest heard that a teenager who committed suicide had been urged to kill himself by fellow inmates at Low Newton remand centre, Durham. Andrew Batey, 17, had asked to go into a special segregation wing because of bullying and threats, but within minutes of being locked up he was being taunted.

Fears of a similar tragedy prompted the establishment of a pioneering programme 18 months ago at Cardiff prison to tackle bullying.

Nick Davies, a governor at the prison who oversaw the scheme's development, said: "We as a group of staff could see there was a problem, but we were at a loss as to what to do. We had no formal training and in the distant past there was probably an attitude that bullying is part and parcel of prison life. "

He said it was not uncommon for the prison doctor to have to stitch up three or four prisoners a week who had mutilated themselves in an attempt to get out off the wing and into the hospital. Others opted to be segregated for their own protection.

"It meant they were being discriminated against and kept away from mainstream prison life, and the facilities available, through no fault of their own, " he said.

For the efficient management of the prison it was also important that bullies were tackled. Bullies often operated in gangs and could effectively control a prison wing if not dealt with. Mr Davies said: "If the situation had been left to run its course, we could have ended up with something close to anarchy. "

The prison worked with Delwyn Tattum, director of the Countering Bullying Unit at Cardiff Institute of Higher Education, who had already done detailed work on bullying in schools.

Mr Tattum said: "Prison is already a very threatening experience and a hostile regime without the bullying that takes place. Prisons need to take action to reduce intimidation and help inmates settle into the system so they can cope with it better."

Measures were introduced at Cardiff's D wing for young offenders, based on work already done in schools. A video has been made with prisoners taking actors' roles and the success of the programme has brought requests for a copy from 30 other prisons as well as visits from prison staff elsewhere.

Self-mutilation among prisoners is now rare. Young offenders undertake a week-long induction programme which deals with bullying. It is impressed upon the youngsters that reporting incidents is not "grassing", but is about self-preservation. Each prisoner is allocated a prison officer who he can approach in confidence with problems.

Staff themselves have been trained in counselling and to watch out for signs of bullying. These include the demeanour of the victim and physical injuries, and such things as personal property disappearing, as victims are often intimidated into handing over personal goods, or items they have bought from the prison shop.

"What the prison has found," said Mr Tattum, "is that because they have built up a much more open and trusting atmosphere, relationships are improving and prisoners are talking much more than ever before."

For those unwilling to come forward there is a confidential helpline. The mail box can be used to give staff details of bullying and the names of the perpetrators. Staff, sceptical at first, have been pleasantly surprised by the numbers of letters they are receiving.

There is another element of the anti-bullying programme. Rather than the victims being segregated, those identified as perpetrators are isolated. Five cells have been set apart, including a basic cell which has nothing in it. For 14 days the prisoner is on a behaviour modification programme, which tackles offensive behaviour, personal skills and improving self-esteem.

Mr Tattum said: "The programme aims to get them to change their behaviour. As they progress they are moved to a cell with amenities and start to earn their personal possessions back."

So far the programme has proved a success, but the ultimate sanction is to transfer a prisoner. Ironically, the bully - once he is moved from the hierarchy where he is established to new surroundings - often finds himself a victim.

Graham Herdman, a principal officer on D wing, said: "Of course bullying still goes on, but the thing now is that we have something to combat it rather than accepting it as part of prison life. Staff know what is happening and are now trained to act."

The video Training Aid to Combat Bullying can be obtained from Graham Herdman, Principal Officer, HM Prison Cardiff, Knox Road, Cardiff, CF2 1UG. Price Pounds 21.50.

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