14/09/2011 09:50 BST | Updated 14/11/2011 05:12 GMT

New Jail Gangs Of Youths Forming After Riots Says, Chief Inspector Of Prisons

PRESS ASSOCIATION -- New gangs are forming in prisons as more and more young people are jailed over the riots, a watchdog has said.

Chief inspector of prisons Nick Hardwick said it had been a "challenge to keep young people safe" as hundreds were jailed after last month's looting and violence. He said new gangs were forming in prisons and gang activity was growing as more young people were joining for their own protection.

"In some places, young people in particular units have formed themselves into gangs or groups and some young people who have not been involved in gangs before have now joined gangs for protection," he said.

More than 1,700 people have appeared in court over the disturbances, with one in five aged between 10 and 17, and nine in 10 male, the latest Ministry of Justice figures showed.

The inspector's comments come after all prison governors in England and Wales were warned last month to take steps to ensure the safety of inmates jailed over the riots after a "nasty" assault between rival gangs left two prisoners in hospital.

The Prison Service sent an email to governors reminding them of the need to warn new inmates of the risks of stating where they live, what gang they may be in, or what team they may support.

Mr Hardwick also said "significant numbers" of young offenders were being placed on suicide watch and other self-harm prevention measures.

Launching his annual report, he said: "Our current inspection programme has given us a good insight into how prisons are coping with the influx of prisoners resulting from the recent disturbances.

"There have been tensions between prisoners, some potentially serious incidents and significant numbers of young people placed on self-harm prevention procedures. It is a credit to the staff involved that there have not been more serious incidents."

Mr Hardwick said too many offenders jailed over the riots will have to sit out their sentences with very little constructive activity and little input to prevent them reoffending.