WINCHESTER prison has made progress over the past 12 months but independent watchdogs have highlighted there are still major issues which need to be addressed.

The report from the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) comes just weeks after footage emerged of inmates at the prison who had broken out of their cells using kitchen utensils.

The IMB said higher staffing levels and greater financial investment from June 2018 to May 2019 had led to prisoners having more scheduled time out of their cells and efforts had been made to improve the physical conditions of the facility.

However, the report goes on to say there remains a serious risk from the continued availability of drugs and contraband, very high levels of self-harm and buildings that are not fit for purpose.

The annual review said safety had been compromised by regular instances of violence by inmates, requiring the use of force by staff. This included, on average, between 40 to 60 interventions a month.

Angus Somerville, chair of HMP/YOI Winchester IMB, said: “In our last report, the IMB attributed much of what was wrong with HMP/YOI Winchester to a lack of funding and resources.

"Today, I can say that additional investment has undoubtedly made a positive impact, resulting in many more staff, an easing of the inhumanely restrictive regime, improving relationships and a calmer atmosphere overall this year.

"However, the quality of the time a man spends out of his cell is as important as the quantity – if not more so – and progress in that respect has been slower.

"The pervasive influence of drugs, violence, and self-harm, together with the inadequate environment all serve to frustrate the undeniable efforts of the many dedicated prison staff working at Winchester.”

The prison was placed in special measures in early 2018 because of concerns at staffing and the conditions.

Some of the challenges persist in spite of improvements in the facility's operation and treatment of prisoners, according to the IMB.

A prison service spokeswoman said: “We are pleased the independent monitors found significant improvements have been made at HMP Winchester.

“Every prisoner now has a dedicated officer providing support during their time in custody, which, coupled with increased staffing levels, is helping to bring down levels of self-harm which are unacceptably high. New scanners are helping to tackle the illicit drugs which drive much of the violence and we have seen a reduction in drug use.

“We are under no illusion that there is still much work to be done at Winchester and across the estate, however, which is why this Government is spending £100million on security measures and £2.5billion on 10,000 new, modern prison places.”

As previously reported, nineteen prisoners broke out of their cells in August, using utensils and cutlery from the kitchen to scrape holes in the walls of their cells.

After the incident 150 inmates were transferred to other jails to allow surveyors to inspect and assess the damage.