Concern over overcrowding, violence, drugs and deaths at South Yorkshire prison

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Concern has been raised at overcrowding, ‘worrying’ levels of violence, deaths and a ready availability of drugs at a South Yorkshire prison.

The concerns have been raised in a report following an inspection of HMP Doncaster – a category B jail and young offender institution, which holds around 1,100 criminals, of whom a quarter are convicted sex offenders.

Following the inspection in September, Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Clarke, also said he was ‘very concerned’ by the ‘increased levels of self-harm’ and the number of deaths at the jail.

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But inspectors did praise the ‘consistent leadership’ and some improved facilities at the Serco-run prison.

HMP Doncaster. HMP Doncaster.
HMP Doncaster.

The report, published today, comes after research by campaigners suggested as many as six prisoners die behind bars every week.

Mr Clarke said: “We were very concerned by the increased levels of self-harm, and by the fact that there had been five self-inflicted deaths in the year leading up to the inspection. Tragically there was another shortly after the inspection.

“The number of prisoners subject to assessment and care procedures because of the perceived risk they posed to themselves was in danger of becoming so great as to be unmanageable.”

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A downward trend in assaults was ‘welcome’ but levels were still higher than during the previous inspection, inspectors said.

Some 61 per cent of prisoners said it was easy to get hold of drugs.

The inspection found that around 700 inmates - a third of whom were under 25 - were doubled up in cells designed for one.

Mr Clarke added: “This dangerous combination of ready availability of drugs, lack of any meaningful way to pass the time, and overcrowding will obviously give rise to tensions and frustration, particularly with such a young population.

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“As such, it was hardly surprising that at times staff struggled to maintain control.

“Doncaster is a busy and complex prison with a transient population, many of whom pose significant risks to the public, to each other and, all too often, to themselves.”

Phil Copple, Director General of Prisons, said: “Since the inspection a new safety management team has been put in place to drive down violence and vulnerable prisoners are being given better support.”