HMP Durham has received a damning report saying it has "significant problems" with drugs, violence, and "worryingly" high levels of self-harm and drug-related deaths.

Durham became a reception prison in 2017 and has on average 118 new prisoners each week, with around 70% of the 900 men in the jail either on remand or subject to recall.

A report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons, which is an independent inspectorate, says violence at the prison had doubled since the last inspection in 2016 and the use of force by staff had increased threefold.

But the report says some of the increase in force may have been due to new staff who were not yet confident in using de-escalation techniques Governance of the use of force had improved.

It says a significant number of inmates arrived at the jail feeling depressed or suicidal and self-harm was very high.

 

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: "There were some very early signs that the level of violence was beginning to decline, but it was too early to be demonstrable as a sustainable trend."

Mr Clarke said the overriding concern was around the lack of safety.

"Since the last inspection in October 2016, there had been seven self-inflicted deaths, and it was disappointing to see that the response to recommendations from the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (which investigates deaths) had not been addressed with sufficient vigour or urgency," he said.

"There had also been a further five deaths in the space of eight months where it was suspected that illicit drugs might have played a role.”

Drugs were readily available in the jail and nearly two-thirds of prisoners said it was easy to get drugs; 30% said they had acquired a drug habit since coming into the prison.

 

"These were very high figures," Mr Clarke said, though the prison had developed a strategy to address the drug problem.

Inspectors noted there were "many positive things happening at the prison", including the introduction of in-cell phones and electronic kiosks on the wings for prisoners, which had "undoubtedly been beneficial".

The disruption caused by prisoners needing to be taken to court had been reduced by the extensive use of video links.

A new and more predictable daily regime had recently been introduced, increasing access for men to amenities such as showers and laundry on the wings.

“For a prison of this type, the time out of cell enjoyed by prisoners was reasonable and it was quite apparent that, despite its age, the prison was basically clean and decent,” Mr Clarke said.

Mr Clarke said there was no doubt the prison was still going through a process of defining, refining and responding to its role as a reception prison.

He said: "The very large throughput of prisoners gave rise to the risk that taking them through the necessary processes could predominate over identifying individual needs and ensuring favourable outcomes.

"However, the prison was aware of this risk.

"The most pressing needs are to get to grips with the violence of all kinds, make the prison safer and reduce the flow of drugs. Only then will the benefits flow from the many creditable initiatives that are being implemented."

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, said safety was the governor's top priority and while Durham has had significant challenges, progress is being made.

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He added: "Since the introduction of the prison officer key worker scheme, violent incidents, self-harm and disruptive behaviour have all reduced.

"The prison is also working closely with the police and the NHS to tackle illicit drug use.

"We are developing a national strategy to restrict supply, reduce demand and build recovery.

"As part of this process we will consider which measures, including technology, can be implemented to further strengthen the prison’s approach to tackling drugs. We are under no illusions that there is much still to do.”