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16 August 2016, 08:37
Nearly half of inmates said it was "easy" to get drugs at an Essex prison, a poll by inspectors found.
Watchdogs warned the availability of drugs was a "big problem" at HMP Chelmsford, while the jail has also seen rising levels of violence.
In a survey of prisoners, almost half (47%) of respondents said that it was easy to get illegal drugs in the prison.
HM Inspectorate of Prisons said this was "far worse" than at comparable jails (38%).
New psychoactive substances, previously known as legal highs, were identified as the main problem, according to the report. It added that the prison had responded pro-actively to address the issue of the substances.
The drugs, which mimic the effect of substances such as cannabis, are seen as a key factor in a recent spike in violence across the prison estate.
The report on HMP Chelmsford, a medium-sized jail holding up to 745 mainly adult men, said:
"Violence and bullying had increased sharply and there was evidence that this was linked to drugs and debt.'
Four people had taken their own lives since the previous inspection, while the number of recorded self-harm incidents were said to have increased considerably.
Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons, described Chelmsford jail as being "in transition", saying:
"Overall it was competently run with obvious strengths to build on, despite some disappointing findings.
The governor and his team seemed to be working hard to deal with these priorities and we are optimistic that they will get to grips with the issues we have highlighted."
Andrew Neilson, of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said:
"This is the latest in a long series of inspection reports that reveal how the prison system is failing as it contends with the disastrous consequences of chronic overcrowding and deep cuts to budgets.''
Phil Copple, chief operating officer of the National Offender Management Service, said:
"Safety in prisons is fundamental to the proper functioning of our justice system and a vital part of our reform plans.
The report recognises real strengths at Chelmsford, particularly the positive relationships between staff and prisoners, but there is clearly more to do.
Reducing violence levels and working to address the increase in self-inflicted deaths is a crucial part of this.
The governor and his staff deserve recognition for their proactive work to tackle the major challenge of psychoactive substances, which will enable improvements in safety and order."