RISING levels of violence, deaths and the prevalence of drugs have been highlighted in a new report looking at life in a North-East prison.

Durham Prison has seen huge increases in the use of force, assaults and illegal use of drugs, according to a new report published by its Independent Monitoring Group (IMB).

It follows an inspection by HM Inspectorate of Prisons last month, which also reported that levels of violence had doubled at the prison.

The IMB has now made a plea for staff at the prison to be given better technology to tackle drugs.

Chair of the board John Davidson said: “The main concern we have is safety. We have identified problems throughout the year. The use of force has gone up drastically. Assaults have gone up, use of drugs has gone up, deaths in custody have gone up.

“The reasons for that are difficult to tell because the prison has changed totally.”

Since becoming the country’s first reception prison, the prison now has about 500 new prisoners a week – up from about 150 to 200 – with a 60 per cent turnover in the prison’s population each week.

Despite plans for a handful of prisons to become reception prisons, Durham is still the only one and the IMB has called for an evaluation of their concept and roll-out.

The IMB has also asked the Minister for Justice to develop a national wide strategy to tackle overcrowding after it found the issue, combined with lack of experience among many prison staff, was likely to be contributing to a rise of assaults.

The number of violent assaults at the prison more than doubled from 250 in 2017 to 542 in 2018, while the number of deaths increased from seven to 12, the number of prisoners self-harming increased from 259 to 672 and incidents of disorder rose from 78 to 209.

There was a 50 per cent increase on assaults of staff and incidents involving the use of force rose from 200 to 612.

In four of the deaths, drugs are suspected to have played a role.

As well as highlighting concerns, the board praised the prison’s education system, which was described by board member Christ Hutchinson as “excellent” and its integrated support unit, which provides additional mental health support.