Staff at a "grim" prison suffering overcrowding and violence often did not know where inmates were, a damning report has found. An inspection of Leicester prison also discovered officers were regularly attacked by inmates, drugs and alcohol were rife, and levels of self-harm had dramatically increased.
HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) said conditions had deteriorated so badly that parts of the prison should be shut down. It hoped a new governor, recently appointed, would "drive improvement".
The adult male prison housed 325 inmates – 50% more than capacity – when inspectors carried out the unannounced visit between September and October in 2015. Cells in the prison's segregation unit were found to be "extremely cold, damp, decrepit and not fit for habitation" while the general facility was described by officials as "grim".
The Inspectorate also said basic procedural security was poor and staff "often could not account for prisoners". Prisoners also struggled to access basic necessities such as toiletries, clean clothes and bedding. Drugs and illicitly brewed alcohol were also found to be "readily available", with more than half of inmates saying they were easy to obtain. This included new psychoactive drugs such as "Mamba", which mimic the effects of cannabis.
Michael Spurr, chief executive of the National Offender Management Service, said: "This is a disappointing report. Leicester's performance has deteriorated unacceptably and this cannot be allowed to continue.
"A new Governor has been appointed who will provide the leadership required to rapidly drive improvement. The Inspector reports positively on the relationship between staff and prisoners. This is crucial for a prison to be successful and provides the new Governor with a solid foundation to achieve the progress needed."
Incidents of self-harm had increased by 50% since the 2013 inspection, the report added, with levels now five times the number in other local prisons. There had been three deaths of inmates in custody over the same period, two of which were believed to be self-inflicted.
Martin Lomas, of HMIP, said: "This is a poor report. We found pockets, such as the gym, substance misuse services and the work of the Community Rehabilitation Company, where the prison was operating more effectively, but much of what we inspected had deteriorated.
"Managers were aware of the problems and data was being collected, but it wasn't being used and problems were not being analysed. There were few meaningful plans to effect progress and we could discern no determination of priorities. Managers should start by making the prison safer and gaining control of basic operational routines."
It comes little more than a week after Prime Minister David Cameron announced a major shakeup of the prison service, which he described as "scandalous". In a speech on 8 February he said current levels of prison violence, drug-taking and self-harm "should shame us all".