A report into HMP Aylesburyby has cast a damning snapshot of life in the "failing institutions".
Mobile phones, failed drugs tests and gangs all are causing issues for staff and inmates alike in Aylesbury Prison.
The report, commissioned by the independent monitoring board said:
"Although the use of staff on detached duty from other prisons has decreased over the reporting year, the prison is still not fully staffed. The pay and conditions of service are clearly not good enough to attract applicants for empty posts in this region of England.
"The current staffing level, significantly reduced over the last five years, has made the prison a more dangerous place for staff and prisoners. Additionally, due to the prominence of gangs across the establishment, the complexity of delivering programmes, education and training, coupled with difficulties in delivering prisoners to their activities, suggest staff levels need to be improved considerably if goals are to be met.
"The rate at which mobile phones are discovered suggests that they continue to be widespread in the prison. The installation of signal blocking systems would have a major impact in the fight against illicit drug use and remove some of the issues between prisoners.
Solitary confinement was also a growing concern for the Howard league, with prisoners spending up to three months at a time in a separation unit:
"A prisoner can still spend three months or more in the care and separation unit (solitary), holding out for a transfer to another prison. This is a major issue for the prison, with almost half of all cells in the wing occupied by “bed-blockers”. We are concerned for the mental welfare of these prisoners kept in segregation.
"There are emerging signs of predominately anti-social personality disorder amongst a high proportion of the young offenders. The Pathways Service offered to the young offenders that display emotional and behaviour problems s, in our view, understaffed and under resourced."
Drug usage and violence are also on the rise in the prison:
"The number of prisoners failing their Mandatory Drugs Tests increased from last year’s figure of 5% to 7% against a target of 4.5%. The use of the New Psychotic Substances is causing problems within the prison. With so many variables, possibly 430 of this substance, an effective test does not exist. The use of mobile phones is linked with drug trafficking of which some are impounded when they are thrown over the prison wall, seized from visitors. or discovered by trained dogs. A mobile phone is a valuable piece of equipment in a prison and is often rented to other prisoners but if the phone is seized during a cell search the debt continues to rise leading to bullying and assaults. We have commented before on the installation of signal blocking systems which would have a major impact in the fight against illicit drug use and also remove some of the issues between prisoners.
During the period April 2016 to September 2016 there were 165 incidents of self-harm; 9 serious assaults on staff; 87 assaults prisoner on prisoner; 34 assaults prisoner on staff; 77 fights; 1 sexual assault; use of force was used 348 times and there were 32 drug finds.
Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This report underlines the problems in Aylesbury and across the prison system – high levels of violence and self-injury, with prisoners and staff being put in danger.
“Research by the Howard League has uncovered the concerning fact that, of all prisons, Aylesbury makes by far and away the most use of additional days of imprisonment. Instead of solving the problems, these punishments feed a vicious circle – they pile more pressure on the prison, which in turn creates conditions for drug abuse and violence.
“Allowing the prison population to grow unchecked while cutting staff has created human misery. The solution requires bold action to stop sending so many people to these failing institutions, where they are swept away into deeper currents of crime.”
Here is a link to the research that we referred to in the Howard League For Penal Reforms Statement: http://howardleague.org/news/adjudications2015/
A Prison Service spokesperson said:
"We are pleased the Independent Monitoring Board has acknowledged the good work being done by staff at HMP Aylesbury.
“The prison has already taken a number of steps to address the concerns raised. It has invested in equipment to block mobile phone signals, put additional CCTV cameras in place and staff are conducting more intelligence led searches.
“More widely across the estate, we have announced a major overhaul of the prison system including 2,500 extra frontline prison officers. These extra officers will help reduce violence and combat the issues that undermine safety in our prisons.”