The influx of rioters into jails has led to violent clashes between inmates as gangs attempt to recruit new members behind bars, the Chief Inspector of Prisons said yesterday.
British police officers charge rioters, during riots in Hackney, east London, Monday Aug. 8, 2011.
Nick Hardwick said the surge of young troublemakers into custody had fuelled tensions in jails and left more young offenders on suicide watch.
He said the increase threatened to undo recent improvements in prison conditions and protested over the Government's failure to embark on its promised "rehabilitation revolution".
Mr Hardwick said the stream of new arrivals had caused "stresses and strains" in the prison system which had spilled over into violence.
A gymnasium at Feltham Young Offenders Institution in west London had been "trashed" and offenders climbed on to the roof, while inmates at Brixton prison refused to return to their cells and threw objects at staff.
He said some of the gang rivalries in the outside world had been transferred to prisons, with some groups recruiting new members.
"There have been some quite serious incidents of groups fighting, fights between individuals and gangs reconfiguring," he said. "Some young people who previously did not have gang affiliation have joined for self-protection. New gangs have also been established."
After being locked up, members of rival "postcode gangs" from London had buried their differences to form city-wide groupings when they were moved to other parts of the country, he said.
The prison population in England and Wales stands at a record high of more than 86,800 – a rise of 900 since before the wave of riots in London and other major cities.
Nearly 200 looters have already been jailed and hundreds more have been remanded in custody awaiting trial.
Mr Hardwick also disclosed that a "significant number" of rioters jailed for the first time, as well as inmates moved to new prisons, were considered to be at risk of suicide and self-harm.
Producing his first annual report since succeeding Dame Anne Owers as Chief Inspector, he said many would have to sit out their sentences without any constructive activity or attempt to correct their behaviour.
They would, he said, have "too much access to drugs and negative peer pressure and too little access to work."