Campaigners have hit out at a Midland prison which was branded "unsafe and degrading" by inspectors.
HMP Hewell, near Redditch, Worcestershire, was hit by a surprise visit last November which found prisoners could easily get hold of drugs and alcohol.
But harder to find were cleaning products – inspectors described the conditions as “filthy” – with waste thrown out of cells onto the exercise yard below.
It was also discovered that there were high levels of assaults with staff reluctant to tackle bad behaviour.
Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons said HMP Hewell’s performance had deteriorated sharply since its last inspection, and demanded action be taken to improve the situation.
Mr Hardwick said: “There are significant concerns about HMP Hewell, whose performance has deteriorated sharply since our last inspection. Much of the prison provided an unsafe and degrading environment for staff and prisoners alike.
“The prison now needs support and stability to halt and reverse this slide. Some staff at HMP Hewell are doing excellent work; the performance of a minority is unacceptable, and too many of the others are disengaged.
“Managers at a local and national level need to be very clear that the current level of performance is not acceptable, and ensure that effective and robust action is taken.”
The report found: “The prison was unacceptably dirty. Some communal areas were filthy even after they had been ‘cleaned’ by wing cleaners, and waste was thrown out of cells into the exercise yards below. There were high levels of assaults, reflecting in part poor supervision.” The report also found: “An unwillingness of some staff to challenge poor behaviour.”
It added: “At the time of the inspection, the prison had no clear sense of direction, some staff appeared to lack motivation and in some areas, poor practice had been left to develop unchallenged.”
HMP Hewell was created in 2008 from three prisons on the site, each holding different category prisoners, and since then the inspectors said there had been a ‘high turnover’ of governors.
In 2012, the prison was rocked by the escape of category A prisoner John Anslow who was being escorted from the prison.
The 32-year-old, who was only recaptured in March in North Cyprus, has appeared in court charged with conspiracy to escape lawful custody and later this year will stand trial accused of the murder of Richard Deakin, 27, in Burntwood in July 2010.
Michael Spurr, chief executive officer of the National Offender Management Service said: “Hewell has been through a significant period of restructuring and change. At the time of the inspection the prison’s performance was below acceptable standards although the new governor was working hard to address the deficiencies.
“Since the inspection we have strengthened the management team. Decisive action has been taken to improve both safety and security. The prison is now clean.
“Hewell will receive the external support necessary to ensure it further improves performance and delivers a safe, secure and decent regime for prisoners.”
Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This is a damning report into a dirty, dangerous and drug-ridden prison, where cleaning materials are difficult to get hold of but alcohol is readily available.
“It should come as no surprise that the prison system is failing to curb reoffending when it houses such violent and chaotic environments, where self-harm is increasing and prisoners are routinely strip-searched.
“The fact that the prison population has doubled since the early 1990s has led to the creation of oversized and unwieldy prisons like Hewell that fail to keep the public safe or provide value for money for the taxpayer.
“As David Cameron said in opposition, ‘the idea that big is beautiful with prisons is wrong’.
“This report shows he should heed his own warnings and shelve plans for new titan prisons.”