An inspection of HMP High Down in Belmont, Sutton, has revealed that high levels of violence are being driven by one of the worst drug problems seen in any English prison. 

Inspectors found that drug dealing in the prison had led many inmates into debt. 

This resulted to high levels of violence and assaults, with some prisoners refusing to leave their cells as they felt so unsafe. 

HMP High Down, which holds over a thousand prisoners, was subject to an unannounced inspection over the summer. 

Your Local Guardian: Murals on walls on segregation unit exercise yardMurals on walls on segregation unit exercise yard (Image: Justice Inspectorate)Charlie Taylor, Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “The proportion of drug tests proving the use of illicit substances was among the highest of all men’s prisons in England and Wales. 

“The prison completed far too few tests on those suspected of using drugs, which meant that users were not being disincentivised.” 

Your Local Guardian: Second segregation unit exercise yard with rubbish on nettingSecond segregation unit exercise yard with rubbish on netting (Image: Justice Inspectorate)

The report also found that poor behaviour in the prison often went unchallenged. 

It stated: “During periods when prisoners were unlocked, we saw and heard boisterous behaviour, yet some officers congregated in the office or behind gates, rather than supervise the units and interact with prisoners. 

“Too much poor behaviour, such as vaping on the landings, went unchallenged. Some staff told us they saw little point in challenging poor behaviour as they lacked faith in the prison’s disciplinary procedures.” 

Your Local Guardian: Metal gates along walkways between houseblocksMetal gates along walkways between houseblocks (Image: Justice Inspectorate)

High Down was recently converted to a category c prison, meaning it is expected to provide training and resettlement to prepare prisoners for their release back into the community. 

However, Mr Taylor said: “It was clear that High Down was not yet close to fulfilling its function as a category C prison.” 

Inspectors found that around 200 prisoners were unemployed and most were only in part-time work, education or training. 

Your Local Guardian: Overcrowded cellOvercrowded cell (Image: Justice Inspectorate)

Mr Taylor said: “Our healthy prison test scores at this inspection were the same as in 2018, rating the jail as insufficiently good for safety and rehabilitation and release planning, reasonably good for respect and poor for purposeful activity, but there had been some improvements. 

“The prison was in better condition, with many showers refurbished, although this programme had stalled and some continued to be in a poor state. Most wings were generally clean and there was less litter about the place or rubbish stuck behind window grills.” 

Your Local Guardian: The Community Living UnitThe Community Living Unit (Image: Justice Inspectorate)Despite High Down’s issues, Mr Taylor reiterated his faith in the current governor Emily Martin who arrived in March 2022 as the fifth governor in four years. 

Mr Taylor said: “High Down has had a turbulent few years. 

“There will need to be a real commitment from leaders and the prison service to complete the transition to a category C prison, in particular to make sure there are enough good-quality activity spaces for the population and that the offender management unit is sufficiently staffed to give prisoners a sense that they are progressing with their sentences and reducing their risk of reoffending. 

“Concerted efforts will also have to be made to reduce the supply of drugs and the provision of more purposeful activity will reduce demand. 

“The next two years will continue to be a real challenge, but with the current leadership I am confident that good progress can be made.”