AN official report into Erlestoke Prison has highlighted serious concerns over the level of staffing and funding.

While many prisoners regard it as a "good prison", management and staff say they are facing a major challenge to maintain standards on a daily basis.

The findings have been revealed in a report by the Independent Monitoring Board on the running of the prison near Westbury.

Key concerns include:

  • Overstretched staff
  • Inadequate funding for the maintenance of the basic infrastructure of the prison
  • Increased security challenges posed by a more difficult prison population
  • A higher incidence of illegal drug and mobile phone use

Board members say security and drug use issues have deteriorated over the past year and they were surprised to find that no measures had been taken to jam mobile phone signals within the prison.

This, they say, would have an impact on drug dealing among inmates. The Board is also calling on the Minister for Prisons to look at funding a dog van and second dog handler to further improve the battle against drugs.

The report, which covers the period November 2006 to October 2007, also reveals that the number of drug treatment completions for inmates in well below target.

Thirty-six were due to be completed in a year but just 12 had been achieved in the first six months of 2007.

However it was not all bad news as the Board found that serious assaults inside the prison had not exceeded targets and race equality targets had been "significantly exceeded".

Twenty five per cent of Erlstoke inmates are from minority ethnic groups and the prison has made huge efforts to celebrate various minority festivals and events during the year including Black History Month and Abolition of Slavery.

However plans to have a dedicated race equality officer at the prison for 25 hours a week have not materialised due to staff shortages.

The Board's report also praised Erlestoke for its farms and gardens scheme as well as a "spectacular" progress in recycling.

More than 600 complaints and requests were made by inmates between November 2006 and October 2007 with 191 relating to property or cash going missing.

Only two complaints of assault were received.

The Board was also concerned that, despite the staff shortages, prison budgets were due to be cut further for 2008/09 which will lead to a cut in educational and work opportunities for prisoners.

Erlestoke is an adult male category C closed training prison.

There are eight residential units with a capacity for 426 inmates out of a total prison population of 81,453 in England and Wales.