Peter Clarke cited his annual report for 2017/18, which was published in July, saying it made for “pretty gloomy reading”.
He told MPs: “I’m afraid I haven’t seen anything since then to give me optimism that any significant corner has been turned.
“The violence figures are going in the wrong direction, we still see far too many drugs destabilising prisons.”
The latest official statistics on safety behind bars showed assaults, including attacks on officers, and self-harm incidents at record levels.
Mr Clarke added that his inspectorate had not seen any “significant improvements” in living conditions.
Giving evidence to the Commons Justice Committee this morning (Wednesday 21st November), the chief inspector suggested there was a “direct correlation” between worsening safety levels and falls in prison officer numbers.
He said: “In the five years leading up to 2013, levels of violence were steady or even slightly declining in some areas.
“Since 2013, there’s been an inexorable rise. The correlation is that the second half of that decade coincides with the reduction in staff numbers within the estate.
“I’m not in a position to show a causative link but you can show a very clear correlation.”
Two years ago, ministers launched an effort to boost frontline prison officer ranks.
As of September, the number of staff in key operational roles was at its highest since July 2012, but it remains more than 2,000 below the level in 2010.
Mr Clarke said the Government’s recruitment drive “will help” and has yielded some positive changes in prisons.
He added: “Whether they will achieve what needs to be achieved is another matter.”