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A Merseyside prison run by private-firm G4S has been "slow to react" to increasing levels of violence and has failed to address links to the availability of drugs - including so-called legal highs, inspectors have found.
HMP Altcourse, in Liverpool, has been criticised by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons for its "inadequate" response to the violence - which included 210 assaults, including 53 against staff - in the previous six months.
Between January and April alone, 38 serious assaults were recorded. Gang issues and the availability of drugs, particularly so-called legal highs such as Spice and Black Mamba, were a significant factor in much of the violence, inspectors added.
Elsewhere, inspectors found the use of force was not always "proportionate and necessary", while the jail was overcrowded with "many squalid cells" designed for one or two holding an additional prisoner.
Chief inspectors of Prisons Nick Hardwick said tackling violence at the Category B prison, which holds up to 1,133 inmates was "the urgent priority" for Altcourse.
G4S runs four other prisons in the UK - Birmingham, Oakwood, in Wolverhampton, Parc in Bridgend and Rye Hill in Rugby.
An inspection at a Liverpool jail has found violence and bullying has risen.
report found the number of assaults at HMP Altcourse have gone up significantly and there are issues with gangs and drugs. Education and training were praised but overall inspectors found the prison was less safe than previous years.
Inspectors were concerned to find that:
- Although prisoners said they felt safe and the prison seemed calm, levels of assaults against prisoners and staff, bullying incidents and fights were high and rising sharply;
- Gang issues and the availability of drugs, particularly new psychoactive substances such as Spice and Black Mamba, were a significant factor in much of the violence and had also been the cause of hospital admissions;
- Little had been done to address the disproportionate number of young adults involved in violent incidents;
- There was little support for victims and a failure to take prompt, firm action against perpetrators;
- There was high use of segregation in poor conditions and significant numbers of those in segregation were seeking sanctuary from violence elsewhere in the prison;
- The prison was overcrowded and many cells designed for one or two held an additional prisoner; and
- Too little was done to tackle the significant need to address domestic violence offences.
However, inspectors were pleased to find that:
- The external environment was spacious;
- Prisoners spent much more time out of their cells than inspectors usually see in prisons of this type;
- Relationships between staff and prisoners were exceptionally good and there was an effective personal officer scheme;
- There was good care for prisoners at risk of suicide and self-harm;
- The prison maintained very good levels of high quality activity, with a strong emphasis on maintaining a good work ethic;
- Prisoners achieved relevant qualifications and some teaching was outstanding; and
- Resettlement provision was reasonable, and most practical needs, including maintaining family relationships, were well met.