Pubdate: Sun, 23 Jan 2005
Source: Observer, The (UK)
Copyright: 2005 The Observer
Author: Tony Thompson, crime correspondent
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Heroin)


Thousands of inmates are being beaten, bullied and intimidated by prison 
gangs which are becoming increasing powerful and violent as the prison 
population soars, The Observer has found.

The gangs are involved in everything from drug trafficking and illegal 
gambling to assault and murder. Some have become so powerful that members 
make hundreds of pounds a week from the jail drug trade. This money is put 
aside for when the prisoners are released or used to provide better 
treatment inside. Those who fail to pay their debts risk violence against 
themselves or their families.

Last week a report into Liverpool's Walton jail, Britain's largest prison, 
found that on one wing nine of the ten prisoners felt threatened by the 
gangs. The Chief Inspector of Prisons, Anne Owers, warned that staff had 
been 'overwhelmed by the imported drug and gang culture'.

'It was clear that the gang culture of the streets outside had infiltrated 
the prison, resulting in both easy access to drugs and in bullying and 
intimidation,' said the report.

'For example, inmates who worked in the grounds were under pressure to 
collect items thrown over the wall by friends and family of bullying 
inmates. Anyone failing to do so could be assaulted or threatened or made 
to pay back the market value of the item. Threats sometimes extended to 
prisoners' families.'

Walton governor Cathy James told The Observer: 'Liverpool has a very 
functional gang network. High-profile gangsters do not stop their 
operations simply because they are in prison.'

The same situation is repeated across the country. Last month Ronnie 
O'Sullivan Sr, father of the snooker player, was accused of running a drugs 
ring from his cell in HMP Swaleside in Kent. Convicted of murder in 1992, 
O'Sullivan was alleged to have been part of a gang supplying cocaine, 
heroin and other contraband to prisoners. A report by staff accused him of 
terrorising other inmates and using his network of contacts on the outside 
to get money and drugs smuggled in during visits.

Kimmett Edgar, research manager at the Prison Reform Trust, has identified 
two main gang types behind violence. 'There are imported conflicts from 
existing street gangs. Then there are power struggles between groups that 
effectively run sections of the prison and have internal conflicts over the 
control of territory. A lot of the violence within prison is the result of 
criminal activity and staff need to have sufficient numbers and training to 
control that behaviour.'

A recent worrying development has been the rise of 'white supremacist' 
gangs, a feature of the US prison system. Racial differences have been 
found to be a significant factor to fights and assaults, with a 
disproportionate number of incidents involving prisoners of different 
ethnic groups.

One such gang is known to have been behind the death of 19-year-old Zahid 
Mubarek, who was murdered by his cellmate while at Feltham Young Offenders' 

The public inquiry into his death, due to end in March, has heard that his 
killer, Robert Stewart, was part of a gang which murdered fellow inmates. 
Mubarek was killed on the day he was due to be released, and murders by 
other members of the group also took place on 'days of significance'.

Stewart's best friend in prison, Maurice Travis, murdered another inmate on 
the victim's 17th birthday. Another friend of Stewart killed his victim on 
the day of his grandmother's funeral. Members of the group bragged about 
their killings in letters to one another. 'We are all evil,' Stewart wrote 
in one.

Although most violence is believed to be drug-related, studies have found 
that power struggles between individuals and 'non-material interests', such 
as whether prisoners have shown 'respect' to certain gang leaders, are also 
major factors.
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