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14 January 2015, 06:00
Inspectors found the category B training prison was running on a restricted regime because of staff shortages.
It holds 780 men serving long sentences for serious crimes, including 200 sex offenders in a new treatment hub.
Although Garth is a training prison, most prisoners could only attend education or work for three-and-a-half days a week, while morning activity sessions were routinely shortened as staff were unavailable to supervise movement to and from activities.
Access was also restricted to the library and gyms, while basic processes such as applications, complaints and mail were also affected.
Chief inspector of prisons Nick Hardwick said: ``HMP Garth has an important and difficult role and some of the significant challenges it faced at this inspection were caused by staff shortages outside its direct control.
``For the most part these pressures were well managed: priorities were managed proactively and the successful introduction of the new sex offender population was a real achievement in these circumstances.
``Nevertheless, the weaknesses in some critical areas - safety, equalities, activities and offender management - undermined its core function as a training prison for serious offenders.''
Offender management work was also badly affected by staff shortages, HMIP said.
Contact between prisoners and their offender supervisors, including some high risk prisoners, was too infrequent, of insufficient quality and did not adequately drive the prisoner's sentence, inspectors said.
The reduced regime that had been introduced in June last year provided 29% less time for purposeful activities owing to a temporary shutdown on Mondays and shortened morning sessions because of staff shortages, the report added.
In addition, inspectors said the number of violent incidents had been rising steadily and there was a sharp increase in the two months before the inspection.
Frightened prisoners were found seeking sanctuary in the segregation unit and lodged on the drug recovery wing, the report said.
There had also been significant finds of drugs and bottles of alcohol.
Michael Spurr, chief executive of the National Offender Management Service, responsible for the running of prisons in England and Wales, said: ``At the time of the inspection Garth had a number of staff vacancies but, as the chief inspector makes clear, was managing a difficult population really well.
``Since the inspection the prison has received 20 new prison officers with six more due to start shortly. The additional staff will enable the governor to further develop the regime at Garth and address the recommendations in the report.''