DARTMOOR Prison is no longer one of the worst performing prisons in the country, after rising a level in the Home Office ratings.

In the latest Prison Service Performance Ratings, Dartmoor is at level 2 ? basically stable, secure and providing a limited but decent regime.

For the past year, the jail has been at the bottom of the ratings alongside Brixton and Holloway. It is currently undergoing a Performance Test which will determine whether or not it will be allowed to operate in future within the Public Sector Prison Service.

All prisons are rated on a 1-4 performance scale, going from poor to excellent. At level 2, the prison is still experiencing significant problems in meeting targets and/or major operational problems.

Prison governor Claudia Sturt said when she took over the job three and a half months ago she expected the prison to rise to level 2 with a further improvement to level 3 within 12 months.

A report by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons Anne Owers published earlier this year highlighted welcome and positive changes at the prison. She described Dartmoor as a safer and less oppressive prison than it was two years ago.

Mrs Sturt, who at 36, is one of the youngest prison governors in the country, is committed to ridding Dartmoor of its ?bleak granite fortress? image and has praised the staff for their eagerness to move forward.

?We are delighted with our new rating ? it is the first real piece of external validation from the Home Office which acknowledges that we are improving,? said Mrs Sturt.

?Dartmoor Prison has been continually criticised for some time now and it is great to be lifted off the bottom. Level 2 is not the be all and end all and we will not be content with that for very long but we feel like we have been given a vote of confidence.?

The prison governor said staff were now more confident that the prison would get a positive performance test result at the beginning of next month which would prevent it being privatised.

?We have not yet been forgiven for the escape of two prisoners in the summer and we will carry that with us until the end of the financial year. But after that I would expect us to rise to another level again,? she added.

Changing shift patterns are expected to reduce the amount of staff sickness which is currently a problem at the prison, but Mrs Sturt said a lot of the problems which dogged Dartmoor had been eradicated.

Work was currently being done to modernise the prison including putting light switches inside the cells.

?We had a recent visit from various top people from the prison service and the home office and they were pleasantly surprised about how Dartmoor Prison felt ? it is very different on the inside from the way it looks on the outside,? she said.

The prison has formed a good relationship with North Devon College which is providing vocational training in construction industry skills to make inmates more employable on their release.

A resettlement scheme is also working hard to secure housing for people.

Mrs Sturt praised the unions who had been ?brilliant?: ?One of the reasons we have been promoted is our improvement in industrial relations and the unions have made a lot of the progress possible.?