Jailed rioters are being targeted by existing inmates because prison conditions have been made worse by the influx of prisoners following last month's civil unrest, Channel 4 News has learned.

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With thousands of people remanded into custody following the riots in London, Birmingham, Manchester and elsewhere, the jail population has broken the 86,000 mark for the first time.

The surge in numbers, in what is already a bulging prison system, means that cells designed to house one inmate are now holding two or more, and conditions in general have worsened.

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. Figures show that 65 per cent of defendants who have appeared in court have been remanded into custody.

I've heard that some that some of the rioters have been attacked out of sight of the wardens - in the showers. Relative of HMP Portland inmate

Those jailed following the riots are being victimised by existing inmates because of the decline in comfort, according to the relative of a teenager detained in Portland prison for an offence unrelated to the riots.

He told Channel 4 News: "People are having their association time cut cut down to an hour a day - or possibly less.

"I've heard that some that some of the rioters have been attacked out of sight of the wardens - in the showers.

"And if things are bad in Portland, they're supposedly worse in Feltham."

Jail (Getty)

Suicide watch

His account comes on the day that Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick said that jailing those involved in the riots has led to an increase in fights, gang-related disturbances and significant numbers placed on suicide watch.

Mr Hardwick, launching his first annual report, revealed there had been trouble in HMP Brixton and HMP Feltham in the wake of the riots.

"There has been trouble inside Feltham where the gym was trashed and people got out onto the roof. At Brixton, people refused to go back in their cells and stuff was thrown," he said.

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.

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

He went on: "For many short-term prisoners, the reality will be being locked up in a small shared cell with an unscreened toilet for 20 hours a day - with too much access to drugs and negative peer pressure and too little access to work and resettlement help."

Prison security at risk?

Shadow Justice Minsiter Sadiq Khan said: "The prison population has reached a record high and prison and probation officers are being increasingly overstretched. It is vital for security in our prison estates that prison and probation staff get the resources and support they need.

"The public expect prisoners to be punished and reformed in prison, not recruited into gangs. Prison and probation officers have an important role to play in prisoners' rehabilitation, but we are seeing thousands of front line job losses in the prison and probation services.

"This Tory-led government must now give assurances that their cuts will not put the security of prisons at risk."

However, the Prison Officers Association (POA) criticised Mr Hardwick's remarks, querying what he was basing some of the claims on.

POA spokesman Glyn Travis said that the inspectorate had not approached the union before making the claims.

"I don't know where he would have got that information - about gangs and suicide watch - because he's not approached us about anything he's been talking about," he said.

"And being on the frontline of the Prison Service, I think we’d know if there were some of the problems he’s talking about. Nobody in our union - the officers wardens etc - have reported these problems, so it's a mystery what he bases the claims on."

Mr Travis added: "However, yes, the prisons are overcrowded. There are now two or more inmates in cells built for one and there’s no additional resources coming in."