Staffing cuts led to an increase in illegal drugs and dangerous weapons at a Surrey prison, according to independent monitors. Their annual report said fewer searches at Coldingley Prison, Bisley, also resulted in more prisoners using legal highs, causing more bullying and debt.
Cuts also meant prisoners were locked in their cells for up to 15 hours. HM Prison Service said its prisons had safe and decent staff levels and extra prison officers had been recruited.
Coldingley's Independent Monitoring Board (IMB), comprised of members of the public, said that in February 2015 it wrote to minister for prisons Andrew Selous to make him aware of its concerns. "A particularly serious incident of vandalism of CCTV equipment, the subsequent discovery of homemade but dangerous weapons and of illegal drugs... followed a considerable reduction in the number of prison officers and other staff," it said.
In the year to 31 July, staffing levels were an "overriding factor" affecting operation of the prison.
"The time available for prison officers to interact positively with prisoners fell by the wayside," the report said. "Fewer searches for mobile telephones, drugs and illegal items were carried out, as were fewer tests of prisoners for the presence of drugs."
The IMB said the removal of an additional pay allowance, intended to compensate for higher living costs in the area, made it more difficult to recruit prison officers. Since the IMB raised concerns prison officers' overtime has been increased and staff from other areas of the UK have been moved to Coldingley and put up in local hotels.
A Prison Service spokesman said it was pleased the IMB report recognised the dedication of staff at HMP Coldingley and the opportunities provided for prisoners to develop their skills in preparation for release.
"We are determined to build on the hard work taking place at this prison, creating a regime that provides the right incentives for prisoners to engage in education and work," he said.
BBC/Sept. 6, 2015
Photos: 1-the guardian; 2-getsurrey