The prison was inspected in August 2021. In their report the inspectors said;
HMP Chelmsford is a category B local and resettlement prison for adult and young adult men. At the time of this inspection 712 prisoners were held in a sprawling institution, comprising older wings from the Victorian era and more modern facilities added from the late 1990s.
Following this inspection, I wrote to the Secretary of State on 26 August 2021 invoking the Urgent Notification (UN) protocol (see Appendix IV: Further resources). I set out in detail my concerns about the prison and the judgements that had caused our course of action. Under the protocol, the Secretary of State commits to respond publicly to the UN within 28 days, explaining how outcomes for those detained will be improved. The Secretary of State’s response, for which I am grateful, is also detailed in the further resources for this report (see Appendix IV).
We had last inspected Chelmsford prison in June 2018 and reported our serious concerns about the conditions we found. At that time, we assessed outcomes in safety and purposeful activity as poor, our lowest assessment, and in respect, not sufficiently good. Only in rehabilitation and release planning did we judge outcomes to be reasonably good. Despite this, the then Chief Inspector was reassured by both local management and HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) that they were aware of the problems at the prison and would implement strategies for improvement. Sadly, that optimism was misplaced. At this inspection we found no improvement in outcomes in safety and purposeful activity, both of which remained poor; no improvement in respect where outcomes remained not sufficiently good, and a deterioration in rehabilitation and release planning to not sufficiently good. In reaching these judgements I took full account of the additional pressures placed on the prison due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but also the failure of the special measures programme and other initiatives introduced by HMPPS to drive improvement. These had not worked.
As at our last inspection in 2018, a new governor had been appointed a few months before we arrived. We were encouraged by his vision and enthusiasm for the establishment, but we were also struck by the seeming intractability of the failings at Chelmsford. The last time we were able to write a positive report about this prison was 10 years ago and it was clear to us that the jail was failing in its basic duty to keep those it held safe. This report also highlights our concern about the negative and damaging staff culture. Many staff were new or inexperienced, their morale was low and they were disengaged from their work and dismissive of the men in their care. Prisoners found it very difficult to access even the most basic entitlements and were frustrated that they could not get things done. We were told that this frustration had led to an increase in assaults on staff.
The negative culture among some staff was compounded by a lack of management oversight or accountability, which allowed poor staff behaviour and practice to go unchallenged. Other very serious concerns included the inadequacy of the prison’s response to the high levels of suicide and self-harm, and the similarly deficient response to some of the highest levels of violence in the prison estate. The paucity of the daily regime meant that many prisoners spent extended periods locked up and isolated in their cells. It was no surprise that many prisoners told us that they felt unsafe at the prison.
Such factors, combined with the inherent risks and vulnerabilities associated with Chelmsford’s status as a frontline local establishment and the failure to grip the prison’s problems over recent years, meant that Chelmsford met our criteria for an Urgent Notification. I concluded my letter to the Secretary of State by saying that HMP Chelmsford would not improve without a sustained drive to make sure that all staff members take responsibility for creating a safer, more decent environment, a meaningful regime and greater engagement with training and education. I argued that this will require strong and consistent leadership at all levels within the prison and much more effective support from HMPPS. As we indicated in 2018 and repeat now, the drift and decline at this prison must be addressed.
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
The full reports can be read at the Ministry of Justice web site, just follow the links below:
- Inspection report (2 MB), Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP & YOI Chelmsford by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons (9-21 August 2021)
- HMP Chelmsford (800.37 kB), Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP & YOI Chelmsford (21 May – 7 June 2018)
- HMP Chelmsford, Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Chelmsford (4 – 15 April 2016)
- HMP/YOI Chelmsford, Unannounced inspection of HMP/YOI Chelmsford (27 May – 6 June 2014)
- HMP/YOI Chelmsford, Announced inspection of HMP/YOI Chelmsford (16 – 20 May 2011)
- HMP/YOI Chelmsford, Unannounced full follow-up inspection of HMP/YOI Chelmsford (3-7 August 2009)
- HMP Chelmsford, Announced inspection of HMP Chelmsford (9-13 July 2007)