HMIP Inspections of Elmley


The prison was inspected last during November 2015, the full report can be read at the Ministry of Justice web site, just follow the links below. In their report the inspectors said:

“HMP Elmley is situated on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent and at the time of this inspection held 1,160 adult men. Its primary function is a Category B local prison serving Kent courts but it also has a category C training function for about 240 men, about half of whom are sex offenders. When we last inspected HMP Elmley in June 2014, we left with real concerns about the safety and stability of the prison. Serious staff shortages had led to a poor and unpredictable regime which was causing palpable frustration and tension. This announced inspection fifteen months later found the prison greatly improved – but still with much to do.

The prison was now much safer. Contrary to national trends, levels of violence and self-harm had reduced. The number of serious incidents, including acts of concerted indiscipline, which had caused us so much concern at the previous inspection, had also significantly reduced. There had been three self-inflicted deaths in 2014 but none so far in 2015, and recommendations from Prison and Probation Ombudsman reports into previous deaths were being systematically implemented. Good use was made of Listeners, prisoners trained by the Samaritans to provide emotional support, and prisoner violence reduction representatives to help make the prison safer. The prison had introduced a number of successful measures to improve the management and care of prisoners with the most complex needs and behaviours. A multi-disciplinary case management approach had been introduced for prisoners with the most complex behaviour. The environment in the segregation unit had improved and the introduction of a spur for prisoners, who were vulnerable for reasons other than their offence, had reduced the numbers segregated for their own protection. Vulnerable prisoners as a whole reported feeling safer than at the last inspection. Safeguarding procedures for adults at risk were now embedded in the prison and this work was supported by a forensic social worker who was based in the prison.

Security was well managed overall. ‘Spice’, a synthetic drug that mimics the effects of cannabis and is very difficult to detect, and other so-called ‘legal highs’, and the debt and violence associated with them are a significant threat to safety across the prison system. Spice had been a serious problem at Elmley but there was evidence that an effective whole-prison strategy to reduce supply and demand was being effective. There was more the prison needed to do to improve safety further. Critical early days processes had improved but needed sharpening up; for instance, not all prisoners were able to make a phone call when they first arrived. The management of behaviour was not sufficiently consistent and there was too little reinforcement of good behaviour. We were particularly concerned about oversight of the use of force. Most use of force incidents involved full use of control and restraint which may have indicated inadequate de-escalation. Some serious incidents, including the use of batons, had not been investigated and record keeping was poor. Some CCTV footage of planned incidents that we reviewed showed poor management and excessive force. Use of special accommodation, a bare cell with no fittings, was high and there was insufficient documentation to show its use was justified.

Overall, staff-prisoner relationships were generally positive but the prison’s continued staff shortages and reliance on detached duty staff meant that relationships were too variable and staff had little time to develop the authoritative and positive relationships needed – the failure to tackle offensive displays or ensure attendance at activities were examples of this. The strategic management of equality and diversity was weak but prisoners with protected characteristics generally reported positive relationships with staff although perceptions were more mixed about other issues. The lack of monitoring and consultation made it impossible for the prison to understand and address any concerns. The impressive chaplaincy met the faith needs of prisoners and was well integrated into the life of the prison. Responses to complaints were improving. Health care had also improved since the last inspection and was now generally good. There was a high demand for mental health services which were very good and health care staff worked well with uniformed residential staff. The inpatient unit provided good care to men with the most acute needs. Access to health care remained a problem.

Access to basic facilities such as showers and clean bedding had improved but the physical environment was still unacceptably poor. Although there had been efforts to make improvements, too much remained dirty and in poor repair. A major bed bug infestation on one of the house-blocks was simply unacceptable – these cells were not fit for use and the unit needed to be taken out of action for a few days to allow pest controllers to eradicate the infestation. Hundreds of prisoners were in overcrowded cells and many were forced to use toilets screened only by a shower curtain a few feet away from their cell mates. Some cells were in poor condition with broken furniture and graffiti. Graphic displays of pornography were not challenged.

The most significant factor in the improved stability of the prison was that time out of cell had become much more predictable. It was still too limited but it was delivered consistently so prisoners could plan phone calls or domestic tasks with confidence. Activities were cancelled too often and attendance was poor. Managers had begun to address the recommendations we made at the last inspection to improve activities. New and more flexible courses had been introduced to better meet the needs of the population and quality assurance measures had been strengthened. Nevertheless, this had started from a very low base and further improvement was still required.

The prison held a complex mix of category B and category C prisoners. For those with a short time to serve, the new community rehabilitation company had made a good start. All prisoners had their practical needs assessed on arrival and before release. Most practical resettlement services were good. Work to help prisoners develop and maintain positive family relationships had much improved. Work to address the needs of category C sex offenders serving longer sentences was less effective. The prison’s reducing reoffending policy did not address their needs and there was insufficient work to address their behaviour and help them progress. There were a significant number of vacancies in the offender management unit and so prisoners had limited contact with their offender supervisors. The risk assessment backlog had reduced but the quality of assessments was variable. Some elements of public protection work needed improvement.

HMP Elmley had made impressive progress in the 15 months since its last inspection and in important areas such as violence, self-harm and the availability of legal highs, had bucked the national trends. The prison had been right to focus on improving stability and safety. This needs to be maintained, and together with the required improvements to the environment, should now provide the platform for getting more prisoners into good quality purposeful activity and doing more to address the behaviour and progression of these serving longer sentences.

Martin Lomas                                             January 2016

HM Deputy Chief Inspector of Prisons”

Return to Elmley

To read the full reports from the inspectors, follow the links below

  • HMP Elmley (PDF, 1.90 MB), Report on an announced inspection of HMP Elmley (19-20 October, 16-20 November 2015)
  • HMP Elmley, Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Elmley (2 – 13 July 2014)
  • HMP Elmley, Announced inspection of HMP Elmley (19 – 23 March 2012)
  • HMP/YOI Elmley, Unannounced short follow-up inspection of HMP/YOI Elmley (28-30 April 2009)
  • HMP/YOI Elmley, Announced inspection of HMP/YOI Elmley (11-15 December 2006)