The ingredients had been there all along according to an independent report – so for some the two days of prisoner unrest at HMP The Mount last week was far from a shock.
Inmates decided to rampage through the Bovingdon prison on Monday and Tuesday – forcing the Ministry of Justice to send in a specialist squad to quell the riots.
It came just hours after a report from the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) was released in the morning, detailing that although the prison had made great strides, there were still serious problems to address.
The most drastic of them was the severe shortage of staff, and the ease with which prisoners could access drugs.
They were problems inherited by the new Governor Kevin Leggett, who assumed control of the prison in May last year.
It was at that time, according to the IMB report, that “all the ingredients were in place for the Mount to suffer disorder – staff shortages, readily available drugs and mounting violence.”
From all accounts the Governor and his team have done the best they can, to the extent where The Mount was rated as a safe prison at the end of the year.
But the staff shortages are starting to be exposed according to the report, which states: “Uncompetitive salaries have seen officers leave and not be fully replaced in terms of numbers let alone experience.
“Given the costs of the prison and probation service and the greater cost to society of re-offending, not fully staffing prisons is a false economy.”
At the end of February there were 24 vacancies out of a complement of 136 officers, who are looking after just over 1,000 inmates.
Ellie Butt, policy and public affairs manager at the Howard League for Penal Reform, told the Gazette: “We were very critical of the Ministry of Justice’s decision to cut so many prison officer staff without also reducing the prison population.
“The MoJ have been trying to recruit more officers, but the pay is fairly low particularly for areas like Hemel Hempstead, London and the South East.
“With the conditions they are working in and the low pay, it’s not a surprise that there isn’t a long queue of people waiting to join.”
The lack of experienced prison officers will be adding to the pressure that staff are currently under.
Ms Butt added: “The main challenge is that the service has deteriorated to such an extent that people just don’t want to stay.
“They have been recruiting for years, and while the numbers coming through are high, the numbers leaving are just as high, if not higher.
“Experienced officers are leaving and being replaced by inexperienced officers, and that creates its own extra pressure.
“It’s not the fault of staff working there. This was predicted, this is what was said would happen if you cut resources. The system can’t really take much more. It was inevitable.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesman replied that The Mount was ‘one of 31 prisons to benefit from increase pay to recruit and retain staff’.
The Ministry says it is also trying to tackle the drug culture at HMP The Mount, which opened in 1987, originally as a Young Offenders Institute. It now provides rehabilitation for 75 per cent of its inmates, while the remaining 25 per cent are near the end of their sentences
The amount of drugs at the prison “increased significantly during the course of the year” according to the report released last week by the Independent Monitoring Board.
In particular, there was a big increase in Spice, a chemical concoction loosely based on cannabis. The drug was linked to one of the only two deaths in custody last year.
Spice has proved highly dangerous to the health of individuals, particularly the strain “Death” which was reportedly widely available to prisoners and led to a number of hospital visits.
The drug problem was most acute in November when a number of prisoners suffered serious short-term health problems with 70 emergency call-outs in the month.
The MoJ says it has been tackling the use of drones to ship drugs into the prison.
Two men, Tomas Natalevicius, aged 35, of no fixed address and Dalius Zilinskas, aged 33, of Grange Road, London, were jailed in May for more than 10 years for sending in drugs on drones.
An MoJ spokesman said: “We are taking unprecedented action to stop the supply and use of drugs which undermines safety.
“This includes a new drug testing programme as well as the introduction of a specialist team of prison and police officers to tackle the threat of drones bringing contraband in to our prisons.”
But Ellie Butt said: “I think the MoJ need to be looking at the demand as well as the supply of drugs. They like to talk about drones but it’s a fairly small issue – the majority of drugs are not coming in on drones.
“Instead we should be looking at why so many people want to to access drugs in our prisons.”
The Ministry of Justice says it is recruiting more staff and tackling the ease of acquiring drugs. It will be down to the few staff at their disposal to ensure that it’s done.