Warning over inexperienced staff at riot prison

Interior of prison cell
Image caption About 130 inmates were transferred to nearby jails after a 'major incident' last year

A lack of experienced staff contributed to a serious disturbance at a prison last year and remains a "concern", a report has said.

Meanwhile, use of the drug Spice remains a "blight" within HMP Erlestoke leading to "frequent life-threatening emergencies".

The report comes a day after the Prison and Probation Service downgraded the Wiltshire prison's rating.

The Ministry of Justice said the prison had "addressed a number of concerns".

The Prison Officers' Association (POA) said management must "get a grip".

A disturbance at the Category C prison near Devizes last year saw 130 inmates transferred to nearby jails after two wings were put "out of commission".

The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) said the "major incident" was not a riot but a shortage of officers "contributed to the incident".

Image copyright Rex Features
Image caption Use of the drug Spice inside HMP Erlestoke near Devizes 'continues to cause concern' for inspectors

Of the 88 prison officers now working at Erlestoke, 34 are new and have served less than one year.

"Lack of experience and confidence is a concern," the IMB said.

Elsewhere in the report it said the use of the drug Spice "continues to cause concern" and it "may be only a matter of time before there is a Spice-related death".

It added tobacco was being smuggled into the prison and sold for about 10 times the price paid in shops and is "an additional cause of debt, bullying and assault".

A separate report from the Prison and Probation Service downgraded Erlestoke's rating from '3' to '2', meaning its overall performance is of concern.

'Reaping consequences'

Mark Fairhurst from the POA insisted last year's incident was a riot, with "cell doors not fit for purpose".

He demanded management "get on the [prison] wings and manage".

"We need experienced staff to guide the new staff. It is a concern that nearly 50% of staff are very new and inexperienced," he said.

Erlestoke's IMB chair Sheila Kimmins said the prison was "reaping the consequences" of government funding decisions.

The Ministry of Justice said "while there remains progress to be made, HMP Erlestoke have addressed a number of concerns".

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