One in five inmates at a Portland jail are developing drug problems whilst in prison, according to two damning reports that describe a ‘toxic atmosphere’ in which guards and prisoners don’t feel safe.

Independent inspectors were told on an unannounced visit that the illegal drug spice is cheaper than tobacco for inmates at HMP/YOI Portland.

The report by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons found that the facility is ‘a prison with very high violence levels and a marked decline in safety’.

The Dorset Echo reported in April how prison officers refused to unlock cells in a protest against the level of abuse they were facing on a daily basis, including being spat on and having urine and excrement thrown at them.

The inspector did note that a new governor had taken over just weeks before the inspection was carried out in May, and that work is ongoing to recruit more prison officers and tackle the problems of violence and drugs.

The report, published today, revealed:

  • The ready availability of drugs is contributing to the levels of debt, bullying and violence. Inspectors were told 64 per cent of prisoners said it is ‘easy’ to get drugs.
  • One in four inmates said they felt unsafe, but the prison had no co-ordinated response to tackle violence. Levels of self-harm had increased significantly since the last inspection in 2014.
  • Prisoners are locked up for too much of the time. Many cells were in poor condition and one senior staff member described a cell with sheets used as a makeshift window and shower curtain as ‘a good cell’
  • Few prisoners had coats or waterproof jackets for wet weather. Inspectors watched prisoners walking between buildings dripping wet, some were using bin bags to keep dry, yet found hundreds of coats in the main stores.
  • The health centre waiting area – which had a swastika still clearly visible under recently applied paint - was the worst such waiting area inspectors had seen in a category C prison.
  • In terms of protecting the public, the prison had stopped notifying external probation services of forthcoming releases of higher-risk prisoners needing Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA). Inspectors “could not, therefore, be assured that prisoners were released in the safest possible way.”

Summing up his findings, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke said: “There were many good things happening at Portland, but we were left with the clear view that there was a need for effective leadership to take Portland into the future and to shake off many of the vestiges of the past. A new governor was appointed a few weeks before the inspection... The governor and his senior team now have an opportunity to seize the initiative and drive forward the improvements that are badly needed at Portland.”

Despite the violence, drugs and poor living conditions, relationships between staff and prisoners seemed generally good, the report said.

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of HM Prison and Probation Service, said: "As the Chief Inspector points out there is much positive work being done by staff at Portland, but this is undermined by the decline in safety."

He said the prison is working to combat levels of violence and has put in place a new strategy to tackle "behavioural issues" created by the use of psychoactive substances.

Mr Spurr added: "More prison officers are being recruited, and with these additional resources the Governor will be able to achieve the improvements required."

Prison has 'toxic atmosphere'

THE Independent Monitoring Board also publishes its report on HMP/YOI Portland today.

The IMO found that the decline in conditions at the facility ‘severely challenges the delivery of rehabilitation’, - despite the best efforts of staff.

The report notes there has been a rise in assaults on staff, that buildings have deteriorated to the extent that they are ‘unsafe and unhygienic’, that there is a ‘disappointing turnover’ of senior managers, too many inmates with mental health conditions and behavioural problems and that the mix of prisoners, including the proximity of members of rival gangs, has created a prison which ‘often feels chaotic and threatening’.

Regarding drugs, the report states there are ‘alarming levels of importation and use of drugs, especially so-called spice with its unpredictable physical effects on both users and non-users – creating a toxic atmosphere, both literally and metaphorically, with debt and victimisation rife.’

Chairman of IMB Portland Prue Davies said: “On several occasions, unrest has, or has almost spilled over into very serious incidents. Over the year prison officers have had to express feeling unsafe in their place of work, and the Board feels it has become a truism to say that rehabilitation, the stated primary purpose of prison, is impossible in a situation where such a proportion of staff time is taken up with ‘firefighting’."