BULLINGDON prison has reached maximum capacity and staff are overstretched and struggling to cope, a report has revealed.
And the findings, published yesterday by the Independent Monitoring Board, also highlighted a rat infestation and high rates of staff sickness among other concerns raised at the adult jail.
It comes as figures released by the Howard League for Penal Reform showed the prison was this month full with 1,114 prisoners – above the 879 limit the jail can hold in decent and safe accommodation.
The new report said the prison had one of the highest rates of cell sharing in the country.
Its author added: “With planned closures of other prisons, it seems likely that this situation will not improve in the near future.”
The study, which covered the period from August 2012 to July 2013, also reported high sickness levels among staff and shortages which had led to two treatment centres closing.
It also revealed the prison had £57,000 cut from its Government budget and had saved £22,000 by taking daily bread rolls away from prisoners.
The report’s author said the rat problem was “exacerbated by prisoners throwing large quantities of waste from cell windows”, and noted some officers had to be reminded to let prisoners out of their cells to take a shower after what were described as “dirty protests”.
Overall, the board said it was satisfied with the standard of the prison management, treatment of prisoners and facilities, but it stressed progress needed to be made to improve the prison.
But Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League, said: “Cramming even more people behind bars at a time when prison budgets are being cut is sure to lead to problems, but few would expect a rat infestation to be one of them in this day and age.
“Prison overcrowding has serious consequences for everyone. When grown men are spending up to 22 hours a day cooped up like battery chickens, it is no wonder that violence and self-injury is rife.
“And when staff are left overstretched and struggling to cope, it means there are fewer opportunities for prisoners to work, learn or take courses to turn them away from crime.”
In January last year the prison held 1,040 inmates, compared to the 1,091 held in January 2012.
But Prisons Minister Jeremy Wright yesterday insisted there was more than enough space at the prison. He said: “We will continue to operate an effective regime at the prison, and will never be in a position where we cannot take offenders sent by the courts.”
The minister also said the Government was working to increase the nationwide prison capacity.
Bullingdon Community Prison opened in 1992.
It has an operational capacity of 1,114 with an average population of 1,063 between August 2012 and July 2013.
It serves Oxford and Reading Crown Courts and Magistrates’ courts in Oxfordshire and Berkshire.
It has six accommodation wings including a unit opened in 2000 which houses prisoners convicted of sex crimes.
Facilities include a library, a gym, workshops and class rooms, a sports pitch and a health care centre.