An Ombudsman's report into Hawke's Bay Regional Prison has highlighted areas of "serious concern".
The report was released on Thursday by Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier following an unannounced inspection late last year.
The prison was the first to be inspected under a new set of standards developed as part of a more extensive monitoring programme on prisons with assessments being made publically available.
The report found significant challenges and areas of serious concern in the high-security side of the prison, particularly relating to safety.
"There was a clear and urgent need for the prison to address the levels of violence and
intimidation that are features of too many prisoners' experience, particularly in the high security units," Mr Boshier said.
"Recommendations include that the prison develop anti-bullying and gang management
strategies, both of which are underway."
A further key concern was shortfalls in the provision of clean bedding and clothing for prisoners and many mattress covers were stained and mouldy.
Some prisoners in the high-security units were washing clothing in buckets on the wings.
Corrections chief custodial officer Neil Beales said he welcomed the report but it needed to be taken into context.
"We have no problems with these sorts of reports, they are not new to us.
"It's really important to put these things in context."
Reports like this were important because they showed prisons how they could improve but they were based on an ideal state that might not be able to be able to be achieved every day, he said.
"Nothing is ever perfect."
There would always potential improvements but there were a lot of things that the prison was already doing well such as reintegration, he said.
In terms of the level of violence and intimidation, this was being addressed, but it was estimated that a third of assaults were not reported and staff could not act on situations they were not aware of, he said.
"The things that are happening are not always brought to staff attention.
"It would be naive to think that we are able to eliminate every aspect of violence."
Many prisoners were there because of violence-related offences and were from violent backgrounds so violence was inevitable but needed to be managed on a daily basis.
Other issues such as laundry and bedding were also being addressed before the report's release with washing machines being potentially put in units and new mattresses on order, Mr Beales said.
They were also already engaged on a national gang strategy which would have an impact as it progressed, he said.
Hawke's Bay Regional Prison was one of the more challenging facilities nationally because of the high percentage of prisoners affiliated with gangs, he said.
Nationally gang members made up 30-34 per cent of prisons but this was 43 per cent in Hawke's Bay.
"That will have an impact of course," he said.
"Gang participation accounts for a significant proportion of violence both in prison and the community."
The report on Hawke's Bay Regional Prison did identify good practice at the prison, including efforts to establish itself as a working prison with close links to employers.
"It is pleasing to see that the report into Hawke's Bay Regional Prison acknowledges the many positive aspects of the department's work as well as highlighting areas where improvements can be made," Mr Beales said.
"Prisoners have the right to be treated with humanity, dignity and respect while in prison, therefore there are a number of human rights standards already in place to ensure safe detention.
"Corrections takes its duty of care towards prisoners seriously and is committed to managing all prisoners in a safe, secure, humane and effective manner."
A number of recommendations have been made by the Ombudsman that will assist the prison director, George Massingham, to improve the performance of the prison and many are in progress or have been completed, he said.
The next prison inspection report will focus on Spring Hill Prison and is expected
to be released within the next month.