DRUG-SOAKED letters penned to prisoners have been blamed for the 'significant rise' in drugs and violence at Oxfordshire's troubled prison.

Inmates at HMP Bullingdon, near Bicester, have been caught smuggling letters soaked in the notorious drug 'spice' from friends and relatives.

Prison governor Ian Blakeman has now revealed it has been the main source of drug supply in recent years, after prisoners previously used drones for smuggling.

Read again: Drug-smuggling drone discovered by Bullingdon Prison staff

However he also said it is something the 1,096-inmate prison is now getting on top of.

The revelation comes after a report from the prison's Independent Monitoring Board found last year that violence was 'significantly higher' and the number of drug finds had shot up by 100 cases in just one year.

The voluntary inspectors reported then: "These figures illustrate the very difficult and challenging environment in which prisoners live and staff work and which impedes progress toward rehabilitation.

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"Many uses of illegal drugs, especially new psychoactive substances (NPS, or ‘Spice’) are unrecorded."

The report, released in December and covering June 2017-18, also found mobile phone finds had more than doubled, fights increased from 67 to 101, and officers were required to use force 636 times.

Read again: Woman smuggled drugs and mobile phone into prison

The report added: "This is the third year in which the IMB has reported concerns about safety in the prison.

"Levels of violence and recorded drug misuse have increased significantly during the reporting year.

"This can lead to a hostile environment which is unfair for both prisoners and staff."

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It added that common causes include debt-related bullying, drug use and supply of spice – and gang-related activity.

Mr Blakeman said officers were aware that 'chemically impregnated paper' had become the main source of drugs at Bullingdon.

He said: "The drug supply has decreased significantly [since the report] and this coincides with us photocopying all the mail for prisoners."

The governor also said officers now have a better grip on violence which has plagued the prison for several years thanks to better staff levels.

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In 2017 it was reported that chronic staff shortages left HMP Bullingdon at the mercy of drug dealers, gangs and organised crime groups.

At the time, the prison was struggling to fill 65 positions out of its 368 total prison officer jobs, but a recruitment drive and influx of staff at the end of last year was hoped to combat the problem.

Mr Blakeman said: "Violence has been a problem but in the last quarter we have seen violence levels decrease and are actually lower than 12 months previously.

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"The increased staffing levels are having an impact on violence, as has the introduction of the key worker scheme.

"This allocates each prison officer a caseload of around six to eight prisoners and means that relationships are improving."

Read again: scores of illicit items found in Oxfordshire Prison

The IMB said the prison's previous shortfall in officer numbers had reduced from 54 to just six by June 2018.

Mr Blakeman said the significant increase in staff had been challenging with 70 per cent of officers now in their first two years, but a focus on recruits has helped retained officers.

The IMB did raise concerns about the loss of experienced staff with 50 staff leaving HMP Bullingdon in just one year – 22 of whom had more than five years experience.

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This was put down to resignation, medical dismissal, promotions and transfers to other prisons.

Mr Blakeman also admitted overcrowding was a likely to remain a problem for the foreseeable future, with the current 1,096 inmates making just shy of its total capacity of 1,114.

However, he said he hoped the additional staff and sending more prisoners on Home Detention Curfew creating less pressure on spaces would make for a 'more favourable' report this summer.