Liverpool prison, which regularly houses convicts from St Helens, has been heavily criticised in a new report.
The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on Liverpool prison.
Inspectors visited the prison in May 2015 and found that standards and conditions had deteriorated significantly.
Ten men had died in the preceding 14 months, and another died shortly after the inspection.
The prison was not safe enough. Assaults on staff had increased three-fold, and staff were found to be using force against prisoners almost twice as often as at comparable prisons.
Too many officers’ incident reports were missing, which made it difficult to determine whether the use of force had been justified in every instance.
All planned interventions were video-recorded and, in most of the incidents viewed by inspectors, staff wore balaclavas – without the authority to do so.
The report describes an incident where a prisoner was given no chance to comply with staff instructions before a team wearing balaclavas entered his cell.
He was eventually left naked in a gated cell, despite managerial approval for him to have his own clothes.
Inspectors found that the accommodation was dirty, overcrowded and poorly equipped. Not all prisoners were able to take a shower every day.
Most prisoners received a maximum of about five hours out of their cell during the working day and this could be far less – as little as one hour – for some.
Primary health care services had deteriorated drastically, to the point where key elements had been judged to be unsafe in late 2014.
Although a rigorous improvement programme had been instigated, inspectors found that some areas – including staffing, secondary screening and chronic disease management – “still had a significant way to go”.
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This report makes grim reading. It tells of death, of violence, of men spending hours on end locked inside their cells, and of a lack of managerial oversight.
“These are the symptoms of a prison system that has been in meltdown.
“Staff have been working under intolerable pressure as prison conditions have deteriorated, but it is totally unacceptable for officers to be storming into cells while wearing balaclavas. It is extraordinary that managers appear to have been unaware that this was going on.
“The government has indicated that it wants to embark on a major programme of prison reform. Today’s report highlights why this is so urgently needed.”