Inmates in Leicester prison are struggling to access basic necessities like toiletries, clean clothes and bedding but have easy access to legal highs, a damning new report has found.
The chief inspector of prisons' report – the latest in a long line of critical statements going back several years – provides more evidence of a prison crisis in England and Wales.
"This report sets out in stark detail the catastrophic impact of overcrowding in prisons," Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said.
"Violence is rife. Prisoners can get alcohol and legal highs easily, but they cannot get the basics.
"Leicester is an old prison, built in the Victorian era, but the building alone is not to blame for these failures. A new prison overcrowded to this extent would have the same problems. We cannot go on cramming more people into jails without any thought for the consequences."
The prison is currently holding 325 men, 50% more than it was built to contain. The report found that staff sometimes had no idea where prisoners were.
Violence was common in the prison, including against staff.
Use of force against inmates was also very high, but inspectors could not find a proper system of accountability to ensure it was being used appropriately.
They found "no strategy and no plan" to reduce violence and intimidation either by staff or prison officer.
Self-harm had soared by 50% since the last inspection in 2013 and the quality of support for prisoners at risk of suicide and self-harm was "inconsistent".
Prisoners rarely spent time out of their cell and "neither staff nor prisoners seemed to know what to expect from the daily routine".
Martin Lomas, deputy chief inspector of prisons, said:
"This is a poor report. Managers were aware of the problems and data was being collected, but it wasn't being used and problems were not being analysed.
"There were few meaningful plans to effect progress and we could discern no determination of priorities.
"Managers should start by making the prison safer and gaining control of basic operational routines."
The problems highlighted by the inspector's office are mostly typical of the series of damning reports on the state of British prisons in recent years.
Overcrowding, due to lengthy sentences imposed largely due to ministerial rhetoric, means prisoners in most jails are unable to leave their cell for more than an hour or so a day.
This often leads to heightened tensions and violence in the prison, and prevents inmates attending courses or doing paid work which has been shown to reduce reoffending rates.
The overcrowding of prisons started with New Labour but its consequences became significantly more dangerous after the coalition government cut funding to the service.
A series of draconian policies enacted by former justice secretary Chris Grayling were blamed by the chief inspector for worsening conditions in prisons, although many of these have now been reversed by his successor, Michael Gove.
A recent speech by David Cameron promised to address the prison crisis, although experts and campaign groups have warned the government will struggle to do so without a reduction in the prison population.