DARTMOOR Prison is one of the worst performing jails in the country, alongside Brixton and Holloway, a new Home Office rating system has revealed.

The prison has been given a one-star rating out of a possible four for ?failing to provide a secure, ordered or decent regime? or failing to meet targets.

But the prison?s new governor Claudia Sturt said it was bad timing for the jail which just two weeks ago received an encouraging report from the chief inspector of prisons Anne Owers for the progress it had made in two years.

?Unfortunately, the chief inspector?s report will go towards the next round of performance level rating and so we have not got the credit this time,? she said. ?Where it might look as if the prison has gone downhill again, this is definitely not the case.?

Mrs Sturt, who took up her post just over a week ago, said Dartmoor had been at level one since the rating system began more than a year ago and it had expected to move up until two prisoners escaped last month.

?In September we expect to win a performance test which will take us up to level two and I believe in 12 to 18 months time we will rise to level three,? she said.

The new governor said people liked to make cheap cracks about Dartmoor Prison because of what it was like 20 years ago: ?Calls for it to be bulldozed from some quarters are completely unacceptable,? she said.

?If we started with a blank piece of paper we would not put a prison in Princetown because it is quite bleak and difficult to access for prisoners? families, but the inside is very different from the outside.?

She said the prison?s reputation did not do it any justice and she had been impressed by the staff?s eagerness to move forward.

?The transition from a Category B prison where everything is controlled to a Category C prison where prisoners take more responsibility for themselves has been a difficult one but things are improving.

?The interaction between staff and prisoners is better than I expected and this has done a lot to bring down the level of frustration and tension which once existed.?

There was much modernisation to do including putting light switches inside the cells rather than on the outside and installing televisions in the cells, but inroads had been made in many areas, including replacing the once damned ?pens and cages? with a bright new segregation unit.

?A great deal of progress has been made but that has to translate itself into performance and that?s what we have not managed to do yet,? added Mrs Sturt. ?Unfortunately, this rating is very bad timing for us and has not helped morale in the prison.?

A spokesman for HM Prisons press office said Dartmoor Prison was improving but not fast enough.

?This is where performance testing comes in and it is quite feasible that Dartmoor will move up the rating system in the near future.?

He said the ratings were a professional judgement based on costs, performance against targets and compliance with prison service standards combined with findings from independent inspectors and monitoring boards.

The latest inspector?s report found Dartmoor Prison to be ?safer and less offensive?.