The prisons watchdog has raised the alarm over safety at a women’s jail for the first time in years.
In a rare finding, HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) rated the female site at HMP Peterborough as “not sufficiently good” on safety.
Its report said inmates felt intimidated by verbal bullying and anti-social behaviour.
Safety had been “reasonably good” at the previous inspection in 2014 but inspectors found a deterioration on the latest visit in September.
The inspectorate also said use of force and strip-searching at the jail were too high.
Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke said: “While levels of violence at the prison remained relatively low and similar to other women’s local prisons, the findings of our survey were far more negative than previously about safety.
“Overall, this is a more mixed report than when we last inspected this prison.
“We were particularly concerned about safety and this is the first women’s prison in several years to have been assessed as ‘not sufficiently good’ in this area.”
Concern over safety in prisons has mainly focused on men’s jails following a surge in assaults, self-harm and drug use across the male estate.
HMP Peterborough, which is operated by Sodexo, is the only prison in England and Wales that holds both women and men on a single site.
HMIP raised concerns that instability on the male side was affecting the establishment’s ability to focus sufficiently on the relatively more settled female prison.
Mr Clarke said: “The leadership team at Peterborough were motivated to provide good outcomes for the women but told us they were distracted by some significant challenges in the male prison.
“A renewed focus on the female prison is now needed to ensure the concerns we have raised at this inspection are addressed.”
Michael Spurr, chief executive of Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service, said Sodexo has responded “swiftly and positively” to the inspection report.
He added: “There is a renewed focus on the specific needs of the women and a dedicated operational manager has been appointed to drive safety improvements.”
A spokeswoman for the prison said: “We are disappointed to receive a lower score for safety.
“Following the inspection, we have implemented an action plan addressing all recommendations.
“The plan includes actions which improve our levels of governance around searches and use of force, actions which further explore feedback around perceptions of safety and a robust improvement programme for healthcare provision.”
The report “recognises that early days support for women was good, support for women with complex needs was good and that the prison environment was excellent”, the spokeswoman noted.