Prison inspectors have produced a damning report into the safety standards at an overcrowded jail published just days after it was saved from the axe.
Inspectors from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) arrived unannounced at HMP Lincoln in August this year and say they found serious failings at the category B jail, in the report released on Tuesday.
The report's authors said staff morale was poor and prisoners' welfare was being placed at risk at the Victorian jail, but did acknowledge speculation over the prison's future meant some of its problems were outside its direct control.
Among the report's findings was the fact the jail was holding 50% more prisoners than it was certified to hold and, in one shocking case, it was discovered a foreign national prisoner had been incarcerated for nine years after the date his sentence originally ended.
Prisoners also told inspectors it was easy to get drugs and alcohol in the jail and there was clear evidence of inmates developing a drug addiction, while instances of fighting and assaults were also high.
The standard of care for prisoners at risk of suicide and self-harm was mixed and too many of those at risk of suicide were being held in segregation with little to do. Also criticised in the report was the amount of time prisoners were kept locked in their cells, or kept occupied with ineffective domestic duties on their particular wings.
The report was published following a decision by the Ministry of Justice on November 29 to keep the prison running, after a public outcry that up to 500 jobs would be lost with its closure. The ministry had been looking at proposals to turn the jail into a holding centre for asylum seekers or downgrading it to a category C prison.
HMIP inspectors did say the low morale of staff and management at the prison may have reflected what was - at the time of the inspection - the uncertain future of the jail. There was, however, praise in the report for good relations between staff and prisoners, without which more serious problems would have occurred, said inspectors. The inspectors also said the prison had built strong and effective links with the Lincolnshire Action Trust.
Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick said it was "a very concerning" report. He said inspectors would make a follow-up visit to the prison "shortly" and set out where and how improvements could be made.
Michael Spurr, chief executive of the National Offender Management Service, said: "I acknowledge that the performance at HMP Lincoln has declined. This is not acceptable and we have taken urgent action to address the Chief Inspector's concerns."