STEPS have been taken to curb high levels of drug use at a North-East prison.

A new report published by Peter Clarke, chief inspector of prisons, found improvements have been made at Durham Prison, which was rated as being "poor" for safety in October 2018.

At that time, Mr Clarke said very high illicit drug use had fuelled debt and violence at the establishment, which was frustrated by a lack of technology to help stem the flow of drugs.

Since then, a body scanner has been introduced, which he said was proving effective at deterring drug supply and finding illicit items.

Following the most recent visit, which took place in July, he said: “Many other steps had been taken or were in progress to reduce the supply of drugs, which was promising.

"Staff and prisoners felt safer and our experience reflected this as we walked round the wings.”

Levels of violence were similar to those at the 2018 inspection, but the proportion of serious injuries had reduced, he said.

However, measures to prevent suicide and self-harm still require urgent attention.

Several prisoners had committed suicide while at Durham in the two years before the inspection in 2018, and there were five suspected drug related deaths in eight months.

In the last nine months, three inmates have committed suicide.

The jail, which can house about 900 men, was turned into a "reception" prison in 2017 , meaning it has a very high turnover - welcoming about 100 new prisoners a week.

The independent review of progress (IRP) found reasonable progress had been made in improving the initial safety checks on new prisoners – though the very large number of prisoners going through reception each day often made it difficult for staff to complete these checks thoroughly.

Inspectors described the recent introduction of checks on new prisoners throughout the first night as a positive step.

Mr Clarke said: "The outcomes of this independent review were positive. Senior managers had taken the recommendations from our last inspection seriously.

"Evidence suggested that the prison was becoming safer.

"Making it more difficult for drugs and other illicit items to enter the prison was having the desired effect and the prison was now better controlled and supervised.

"However, weaknesses in the suicide and self-harm prevention measures remained a significant concern and required urgent attention.

"Durham needed to give priority to improving the quality of risk management planning if we are to be confident that the public are protected when prisoners presenting a risk of serious harm are released.”

More work also needs to be done to tackle weaknesses in rehabilitation and release planning.