A DAMNING report has described HMP Bristol as one of the most unsafe prisons in England and Wales.

An unannounced inspection earlier this month found levels of violence against both inmates and staff were higher than most other prisons in the country.

Almost half of detainees said drugs were “readily available”, and there have been eight suspected suicides in the last 10 months at the prison.

In an “urgent notification” letter to Lord Chancellor Alex Chalk, HM chief inspector of prisons Charlie Taylor said failings observed in a last inspection in 2019 persisted and it remained “one of the most unsafe prisons in the country”.

The prison - which is located near Filton - was violent and riddled with drugs, some of which were delivered by drones to prisoners through cell windows. 

With serious staff shortages, the prison was struggling to deliver any kind of regime and most men spent up to 22 hours a day locked in their cells.

Almost half of cells now held two men, meaning they were very cramped indeed.

Some prisoners were held in single cells with no in-cell sanitation, sharing toilets in an appalling condition.

Despite the obvious effects of overcrowding, the capacity of the prison had actually been increased on several occasions since the last inspection.

Gazette Series: HMP Bristol HMP Bristol (Image: Barry Batchelor/PA)

Mr Taylor said: “This was a very worrying inspection, but the challenges facing Bristol – short staffing, aging facilities, overcrowding and unstable leadership with inadequate support from the centre – can be seen in other jails across England and Wales, albeit thankfully to a lesser extent.

“Our concern is that, with rising population pressures and increasingly stretched resources, more and more prisons are going to start to struggle.

“The situation in many prisons is concerning and we need to see resolute support from the centre over the coming months to every prison and governor if we’re to avoid seeing more prisons in the desperate state that Bristol is in.

“We cannot end up in a situation where men are simply warehoused in appalling conditions, with real risk of harm not only to them, but also to the public on their release if their rehabilitation is not being supported during their time in custody.”

Prisons Minister Damian Hinds said: “The findings of this report are completely unacceptable and we are taking urgent action to turn the prison around and ensure the safety of staff and prisoners.

“We have already deployed extra staff to improve safety and work is under way to refurbish showers and cells, but we know much more work is needed to get the prison back to where it needs to be.

“We will shortly publish our action plan which will set out what measures we’re taking to resolve the most serious issues.”