Attacks on staff by inmates at Gartree Prison rocketed by a 33 per cent last year, new figures show.
Prisoners carried out 81 assaults on wardens and officers at the high-security jail near Market Harborough.
And inmates launched 78 attacks on each other at the high-profile Category B prison in 2019.
The figures have been revealed in the Independent Monitoring Board’s (IMB) annual report into Gartree Prison.
Tim Norman, chair of the 700-inmate South Leicestershire establishment’s watchdog IMB, told the Harborough Mail: “It’s been a very tough year at Gartree Prison.
“There has been a significant rise of unrest right across the country’s prison estate – and Gartree is no exception to this.”
Worried Tim added: “We are naturally deeply concerned at the serious level of violence used against staff - up by over 30 per cent on the previous year.
“These assaults are mainly kicking and punching.
“Inmates will also make their own weapons such as crude blades and knives.
“We also had a worrying firearms incident at Gartree last year which was a real shaker.
“The Board needs the Governor to take all measures necessary to cut the levels of violence, self-harm, bullying, drug-taking and drug-smuggling by maintaining adequate staffing.”
The watchdog chief said drugs pose by far and away the most dangerous threat to law and order as well as health and safety at Gartree.
“Drugs are easily the biggest problem that we face at the prison.
“And the solution is simple and straightforward – keep drugs out of the jail,” insisted Tim, who’s being forced to work from home during the Covid-19 lockdown.
“Drugs are the root of all evil at Gartree – as they are at all prisons.
“They lead to bad behaviour and spark fights among prisoners, bullying, intimidation and assaults on staff.
“Inmates are desperate to get their hands on drugs – and demand always outstrips supply.
“As a result the value of drugs in prisons is several times that of drugs on the street.”
He said serious hallucinogenic drugs like spice trigger dramatic confrontations, violence and self-harm at Gartree – whose inmates are almost all ‘lifers’ serving life sentences for brutal crimes such as murder and rape.
“Spice is a mind-altering drug and has a terrible effect on inmates.
“Drugs like spice lead to debt and debt enforcement on top of mental health problems,” warned Tim.
“Prisoners are asking their families to send them money – and their families on the outside can then end up facing terrifying intimidation and bullying as well.
“Most drugs are being smuggled in to Gartree by visitors – wives, girlfriends and so on.
“Incoming mail and clothing parcels are now being scanned to detect impregnated drugs such as spice.
“But we urgently need new technology being made available across the country’s prison estate such as high-tech airport-type scanners to thoroughly check every visitor going in.
“Prisons have to step up the fight on drugs.
“They are at the heart of all that’s wrong at Gartree.
“Some drugs are even being thrown over the walls into the jail itself – so we need more patrols and CCTV to stamp that out as well.”
He said the IMB is also “dismayed” at the deterioration of the “fabric” of the ageing 55-year-old prison.
“The prison service has to pour in more cash to prevent such basic problems as leaking roofs and insanitary showers.
“We’ve often had buckets on the floor on the wings and in the kitchen to catch rainwater – and that’s not good enough,” said Tim.
“This wears down the morale of staff as well as inmates and puts an even bigger strain on the relationship between the two.”
He said a hardcore of inmates with severe mental health problems should not be locked up at Gartree at all.
“They are disruptive, upset other prisoners and staff and should be moved out and placed in the correct establishment for them,” said Tim.
“We have about 300 staff altogether at the moment.
“And the more we can beef up frontline staff to improve security the better.”
Tim said he will be urging Harborough MP Neil O’Brien to ramp up Government support for Gartree Prison.
Neil told the Mail that he will be urging Prisons Minister Robert Buckland to urgently pour more vital resources into Gartree.
“We need to roll out new technology to stop drugs being smuggled into Gartree.
“It’s a very difficult jail because it’s the UK’s only lifers prison,” he said.
“I will certainly be making a powerful case for more money and resources to be ploughed into Gartree to combat drugs as well as other law and order issues.”
A Prison Service spokesperson said: “Searches using specialist sniffer dogs have already been stepped up at HMP Gartree.
“It will also receive a new X-ray body scanner to drive down violence and the flow of drugs.”