MANY services at Durham Prison are not good enough, including work to support inmates at risk of self harm, according to a watchdog.

Four prisoners have taken their own lives in just over two years, although incidents of self harm seemed to be falling, say prison inspectors.

Nick Hardwick, chief inspector of prisons, said progress at Durham Prison remained too slow - although there was some good practice.

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His comments follow an unannounced inspection from December 2 to 13, last year.

Inspectors were concerned to find arrangements to promote safety were not good enough, with improvements needed in risk management and assessment.

Incidents of violence and anti-social behaviour were higher than expected, while problems with young adults, who were more likely to be subject to the use of force, required better understanding by the prison.

Mandatory drug testing suggested illicit drug usage was almost twice what would be expected in similar prisons, with positive results as high as 37 per cent in some months.

The 200-year-old prison holds about 1,000 adult and young adult male prisoners, with virtually every cell holding more people than it should.

Inspectors were pleased to find the prison had begun to tackle drug supply and reduction, while clinical treatment and support for those with drug problems had “improved significantly”. Mental health provision in the new health facility was “excellent”.

Mr Hardwick said: “Durham produces some reasonable and, at times, very good outcomes for prisoners.

“It is unusual that in an old Victorian local prison it is the quality of work activity and learning that is one of the prison’s best features.

“Resettlement services are also reasonably good. Durham, however, could be a better prison than it currently is.

“Many services, notably those run by operational staff, were not good enough.

“The prison has experienced some significant distractions in recent times but these should not be allowed to become excuses. Progress needs to be speeded up.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive Officer of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), said: "Durham has been implementing major changes in working arrangements and has improved its performance whilst significantly reducing cost to the taxpayer.

“There is more to do - but the Governor and his staff deserve credit for the progress made in challenging circumstances.

“We will use the recommendations in this report to achieve further improvements over the next 12 months."