STAFFING issues were found to be the "biggest destabilising factor" at HMP Berwyn over the course of a year, according to a report.

The prison's independent monitoring board released its annual report last week.

Covering the period of March 1 last year to February 28 this year, the document assesses numerous aspects of the establishment's operations, including staffing during what was still a difficult time in the covid-19 pandemic.

It explains: "The board notes that again, this has been a challenging year with a reduced operational capacity for transfers to other prisons, which the board understands to be impacted by covid-19 related reductions in operational staffing.

"This continues to be an area of concern."

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At the end of the year covered by the report, there were 60 vacancies out of a complement of 360 prison officers.

There was the equivalent of five-and-a-half probation officers in post out of a required 17-and-a-half.

In a section headed "main areas for development," the report states: "The board is concerned at the lack of staff - which is the biggest destabilising factor in the prison.

"We hope to see increased funding to help recruit and retain frontline operational staff."

In terms of staff-prisoner relations, the document adds: "It is the opinion of the Board that generally relations are good. 

"The Board notes examples of good practice such as a regular staff and prisoner combined park run, which encourages better relationships. 

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"However, several prisoners have commented to the Board that they felt staff do not show sufficient respect. 

"The Board recognises the steep learning curve for new staff to learn how to operate within a prison, which has not been helped by many officers starting employment in a Covid-19 restricted regime with prisoners under long periods of confinement in their cells.

"The prison management team is aware of this and has applied for and been granted funding for a standard coaching team to work on-site and upskill the workforce."

Staff shortages were also noted in a HM Inspectorate of Prisons report released last week.

That report stated: "The governor had approached recruitment and retention creatively and ensured it was led at a senior level. 

"However, there continued to be staff shortages, which affected the delivery of some key services in health care, purposeful activity, and resettlement and release."

However the Leader also reported recently how the prison is working with a pioneering scheme called Unlocked which trains graduates to become prison officers, and the establishment is to receive six new officers as part of the initiative this month.