A private prison was yesterday described as "unsafe", with prisoners bullying staff, and drugs, knives and alcohol freely available.
The inspection report into Rye Hill prison, near Rugby, was described by the Prison Reform Trust as "one of the most damning reports of a prison we have seen".
The trust's director, Juliet Lyon, said: "This prison appears to be run not by a private company, but by the prisoners themselves."
The chief inspector of prisons, Anne Owers, said Rye Hill had deteriorated to the extent that, at the time of inspection, it was "an unsafe and unstable environment".
Inspectors found inexperienced staff on a wing of 70 unlocked prisoners, "surviving by ignoring misbehaviour or evidence of illicit possessions". They also witnessed evidence of staff being bullied by prisoners.
In the period immediately before the inspection, in April, the jail, holding 600 serious offenders, had experienced an apparently self-inflicted death in the segregation unit. A hostage was taken and there had been a 100% rise in the number of assaults against staff, at a time when assault figures are down across the service.
Staff and prisoners told inspectors that managers at the jail gave no support to custody staff and were rarely seen on the wings when prisoners were unlocked. The report also highlighted failings in the race relations programme at the jail. An analysis of use of force data shown to inspectors revealed that 57% of all recorded use of force involved black or ethnic minority prisoners, yet that group accounted for only 37% of the jail's population.
There had been instances of gang activity and after the death of an inmate, during the inspection, 36 prisoners were moved to other jails. Three men were later charged with the murder of Wayne Reid, 44, from Birmingham. Mr Reid was due to be released a few days after he died.
Monitoring North monitors treatment of people in custody. Its spokesperson, Ruggie Johnson, said the organisation had been inundated with calls from concerned relatives of men in Rye Hill.
"Mothers of young men have been telling us for months that their sons were not safe in that prison," he said. "It is clear that those in charge at Rye Hill are not capable of maintaining order and we call on the Home Office to hold an investigation into the allegations that have emerged from this report."
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