Drugs readily available and violence rife at new prison in Wrexham, inspection reveals

Drugs and violence are rife at a new prison being run by inexperienced staff, according to a watchdog.

Drugs were “readily available” at HMP Berwyn, with nearly half of prisoners saying they were easy to get, a report said.

Almost one in four inmates said they had developed a drug problem while at the two-year-old prison near Wrexham.

Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke said in his findings that in just six months before the inspection, there were 574 incidents where force was used – which was “far higher” than in similar prisons – and use of batons was also high.

The report said 22% of prisoners said they had been physically restrained by staff, significantly more than the 13% comparator.

Prison records indicate 90% of incidents involved full control and restraint.

“The use of force records we reviewed showed too many missed opportunities to de-escalate situations,” the report said.

Having opened in 2017, the prison can hold up to 2,106 people. There were 1,273 at the time it was inspected.

Some 75% of inmates in March 2019 were from England, despite the prison being in Wales.

Most staff at the jail were inexperienced and this was having a “negative impact on many aspects of prison life” but they were “doing their best”, Mr Clarke said.

At the time of the inspection, 77% of officers had less than two years’ service and about a third had less than one year.

Mr Clarke added: “There was inconsistency in the application of rules, some low-level poor behaviour went unchallenged, and staff could struggle to answer even basic questions from prisoners.”

Public protection procedures also needed “urgent attention” to ensure the risks prisoners posed were considered properly, the report said.

Overall, Mr Clarke said the prison had made a “good start” but better “oversight” and “co-ordination” was needed.

He added: “Some mistakes have been made and we identify some important weaknesses, but we also acknowledge the great effort that has been made to give this prison a good start.”

Amy Rees, director general for probation in Wales, said the prison is working with police to better detect drugs and has put plans in place to tackle poor behaviour and reduce violence.

Shadow justice minister Imran Hussain said: “These problems are a direct consequence of brutal staff and budget cuts made by the Tories and, in coalition, by the Lib Dems. ”

He added: “This crisis is the Government’s fault, and it must end it fast. We need a retention strategy to end the exodus of experienced staff in our prisons. That’s the only way to make sure everyone is safe. You can’t keep people safe on the cheap.”

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