PRISONERS in Thamesmead were refusing to come out of their cells because they were “too frightened”, a report has revealed.

HMI Prisons carried out an unannounced week’s inspection of HMP & YOI Isis in Western Way in September and found it was facing “formidable challenges”.

Isis opened in July 2010 and is the only category C training prison for young men aged 18 to 25 in the country.

Category C prisoners are those who cannot be trusted in open conditions but who are unlikely to try to escape.

HM chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick said: “We found frightened prisoners refusing to move from the induction unit on G wing; little was being done to address their concerns and they spent most of the day locked in their cells.”

Inspectors also found there had been a large number of low level violent incidents and prisoners did not feel confident staff would keep them safe.

Mr Hardwick added: “Were there to be an emergency, the dysfunctional cell call bell system gave us no confidence that officers would promptly attend.”

The needs of prisoners with disabilities were not met and many foreign national prisoners said they felt “frightened and isolated.”

A system that registered prisoners’ thumb prints when they moved from one part of the prison to another also failed to work.

Prisoners had to stop what they were doing- sometimes for hours- while they were manually counted.

Education, training, work and other activities were all severely disrupted as a result.

However, inspectors did commend the prison for its drug and alcohol abuse support service and its commitment to re-housing prisoners after they left prison.

Mr Hardwick concluded: “The prison now needs to ensure it makes equal progress in delivering its central training function and providing a safe and decent environment for all the young men it holds.”

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CHIEF executive officer of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), Michael Spurr, said: “The chief inspector rightly highlights the challenges Isis has faced in opening and running a new prison.

“Recruitment at Isis has posed a challenge but new staff are being absorbed well and are working hard to manage the volatile population.

"I am pleased that the Inspector praised the resettlement work being undertaken and acknowledged the low drug use.

“The Governor and staff are working hard to establish a positive culture and are committed to creating a safe and secure environment.

"I am confident that they will continue build on the progress made.”