A SCATHING report about Chelmsford Prison says staff and prisoners are being put in danger.

Problems include staff shortages, bullying, self harm, crumbling buildings and poor healthcare.

The independent monitoring board for HMP/YOI Chelmsford examined the situation between September 2015 and August 2016 and concluded the prison is becoming more dangerous and less effective.

The report was published today.

The board sought to highlight “the negative impact which budgetary cuts and the failure of the prison service to recruit and retain sufficient numbers of prison officers has had on the safety of both prisoners and prison officers”.

The report highlights: n staff shortages with “significant problems at Chelmsford in retaining officers and because of high levels of staff sickness”

n worries at the high levels of bullying and self-harm which have increased sharply during the period covered by this report n the very poor and deteriorating physical condition of the oldest, Victorian part, of the prison and, in particular, the segregation unit, where prisoners are held following infractions of the prison’s rules or for their own safety n the poor performance of the prison’s healthcare services which are provided by Care UK n the lack of secure mental health accommodation available outside the prison for many of its most vulnerable prisoners.

Four wings at Chelmsford Prison were built in 1819 with two added in 1996 and a third in 2006.

It is a category B prison and serves the courts with remanded or recently sentenced prisoners.

It has an operational capacity of 745 with the average stay just a few weeks leading to a high turnover with prisoners then sent elsewhere.

Prison officer numbers have been cut in recent years as has the budget for the prison.

After the Government introduced its new ways of working system the minimum number of officers needed was set at 144.

When the report was completed the prison was 30 officers short due to vacancies and sickness.

As a result the prison has been unable to provide suitable engagement work or education for prisoners.

The report states: “Of that reduced total there are a significant number of young and inexperienced officers and, given that many prisoners appear disengaged, the board fears for general prison safety.”

While Prison Governor Steve Rodford holds clinic sessions with repeat violent offenders, the levels of violence bullying and self harm are increasing according to the independent monitoring board.

This conclusion is supported by another report from HM Chief Inspector of Prisons which revealed the widespread use of new psychoactive substances, especially Spice, and other illegal drugs. Half the prison population said it was easy to get hold of.

The inspector’s report also revealed use of force by staff had nearly doubled and there was little scrutiny to see if the force was appropriate while offender management, particularly of high risk prisoners, was said to be weak.

Violence and bullying between prisoners “had increased substantially and was high” and measures to manage those responsible was “poor”.

The board’s report details the “high level of violence and assaults on members of staff” and recorded there were 22 reports in August alone.

The report also describes Care UK’s handling of prisoners’ physical and mental health needs as inadequate with medication delays and the use of agency staff to cover clinical vacancies.

The “chronic shortage” of secure mental health places outside the prison combined with the “large numbers of prisoners with serious mental health problems” creates a potentially explosive situation.

The personal officer scheme has also been abandoned, however, the board did praise the prison officers in post for their “care, professionalism and dedication” despite staffing levels being “well below the prison’s minimum” which, it said, “makes it impossible to ensure prisoners’ safety and decency”.

In November, 40 prison officers at HMP Chelmsford went on strike, along with colleagues elsewhere over concerns about staff safety.

Speaking at the time Mitchell Saunders, 57, chairman of the union’s Essex branch, said: “We’re doing this because of the recent rise of assaults in our prison, prisoner on prisoner and prisoner on staff.

“There is a severe staff shortage too so everyone is stretched. This means the prisoners don’t receive the provisions they need, so when they come out of their cells tensions are high. “Then there’s the Spice epidemic. It’s everywhere in the prison and inmates can get extremely violent after taking it.

The Ministry of Justice labelled the action unjustified and Justice Secretary Liz Truss threatened legal action against the Prison Officers’ Association.

Control of one of the wings at the prison was temporarily lost on Boxing Day.

Care UK defended its record.

A spokesman said: "We have worked hard to recruit permanent members of the clinical team. Where we have no alternative but to use agency staff, we make sure that they have the appropriate qualifications and induction.

"Managing medication is a challenge facing all doctors working in secure environments.

"Prescription drugs can be traded and abused in the prison environment so we ensure our prescribers follow national guidelines, including those issued by the Royal College of General Practitioners, the British Pain Society and NHS England.

“Our complaints process is now in line with the recommendations made by the Care Quality Commission and with the wider NHS.

"The IMB is welcome to see an anonymised, thematic analysis of patient complaints."

A spokesman for the prison service said: "We are committed to transforming prisons into places of safety and reform and we've announced a major overhaul of the prison system including 2,500 extra frontline officers.

“We take the mental health of those in our custody extremely seriously, but recognise that more can be done to support prisoners.

"That is why we’ve invested in specialist mental health training for prison officers, increased funding for prison safety, and launched a suicide and self-harm reduction project to address the increase in self-inflicted deaths and self-harm in our prisons.

"We have also invested £14 million to provide more than 400 extra staff in ten of the most challenging prisons, with HMP Chelmsford using the additional funding to boost the number of frontline officers.”