A PRISON hit by rising violence and a spate of suspected drug-related deaths was promised scanning equipment, only for it to be diverted to another jail, according to a watchdog report.

HMP Durham’s leadership was said to have been left “immensely frustrated” at having no modern technology to help their efforts to stop drugs getting in.

There had been five deaths at the establishment in eight months where it was suspected that illicit drugs might have played a role, HM Inspectorate of Prisons said.

It also found that levels of violence had doubled since the prison was last assessed in 2016.

Some incidents were serious and involved weapons, and many were related to illicit drug use, the report said while a survey revealed nearly a third of prisoners said they had developed a drug problem while serving their sentence.

Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke said: "The number of suspected drug-related deaths was also extremely worrying."

The Northern Echo:

He added: “The prison was well aware of the dangers posed by drugs and had developed a strategy to address the problem.

“However, the leadership of the prison was immensely frustrated by the fact that they had no modern technology available to them to help them in their efforts to stem the flow of drugs into the prison.

“We were told that they had been promised some modern scanning equipment but that it had been diverted to another prison.

“The scale of the problem at HMP Durham and the obvious linkage to all kinds of violence were such that technological support was urgently needed.”

The report said there had been seven self-inflicted deaths at the jail in the previous two years, while the number of self-harm incidents was “very high”.

Inspectors, who visited the prison over two weeks in September and October, also found it was heavily overcrowded and that too many prisoners said they felt "unsafe" and had been physically assaulted by fellow inmates.

There were, however, “many positive things” happening, with the inspectorate citing the introduction of in-cell phones and a “new and more predictable” regime.

Meanwhile, disruption caused by prisoners needing to be transported to prison, had been reduced with the use of video links.

Michael Spurr, chief executive of HM Prison and Probation Service, acknowledged HMP Durham faces “significant challenges” but said it is making progress.

Violence, self-harm and disruptive behaviour have reduced and the prison is working to tackle illicit drug use, he said, adding: “We are under no illusions that there is much still to do.”

It is believed that scanners are expected to be installed at the establishment in the coming months.

HMP Durham’s primary role from May 2017 was as a “reception” prison for adult and young adult men.

It held nearly 900 prisoners at the time of the inspection.