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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 August, 2003, 06:41 GMT 07:41 UK
Governor defends under-fire prison
Armley Prison
The prison suffered a high number of suicides last year
The governor of Leeds Prison has defended the jail after new figures revealed it has the highest level of recorded drug use among prisoners in England and Wales.

Stacey Tasker believes the criticism of the category B prison in Armley by the Prison Reform Trust is unfair.

The study used the Prison Service's own data for England and Wales published last month, which showed positive drug tests rose to 11.7% last year overall against a target of 10%.

Leeds Prison recorded the most positive drug tests (28.3%), followed by Lancaster (26.4%) and Kirkham in Preston (25.8%).

I would like to pay tribute to the staff who work here day in day out under the unrelenting pressure of overcrowding
Stacey Tasker, governor
The prison currently houses 1239 inmates and Ms Tasker said: "I say the criticism is very unfair indeed.

"Leeds is towards the top of the league table of all local prisons if you compare like with like.

"I would like to pay tribute to the staff who work here day in day out under the unrelenting pressure of overcrowding, keeping the place running with a very difficult and unpredictable clientele."

The year 2002-2003 also saw the highest number of suicides on record nationally with 105 jail inmates taking their own lives.

Four suicides

There were four suicides at Leeds last year - two behind Durham which recorded the highest number in the country.

Leeds also came under fire for the lack of provision of adequate levels of purposeful activity for prisoners.

Against a target of 24 hours of activity per week Leeds prisoners received an average of 17.5.

Report author Enver Solomon said: "This report reveals a Prison Service whose performance is being severely hampered by a record prison population.

"It is truly shocking that so many people have killed themselves in prison.

"Far too many prisons are overcrowded, provide inadequate levels of purposeful activity and experience high levels of recorded drug use.

"The only way to improve these jails is immediately to reduce their populations."

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