HMIP Inspections of Chelmsford

The prison was inspected in April 2016. In their report the inspectors said;

“HMP Chelmsford is a medium sized local prison , holding up to 745 mainly adult men. An unusual establishment, it comprises older accommodation built in the 1830s with a similar amount of modern accommodation. We found that outcomes and perceptions among prisoners aligned closely with where they were located, with those prisoners in the older wings being far more negative about their treatment and experiences than those in the newer wings. As such it provided an interesting insight into the experience of prisoners more generally across the prison estate where environmental standards are similarly varied.

At recent inspections we have described Chelmsford as a basically decent institution doing its best despite some significant operational challenges. At this inspection our findings suggested that progress had stalled and that there had been some deterioration in outcomes, particularly concerning the quality of respect and the effectiveness of the prison’s resettlement work. This, however, was not the whole picture and there was evidence to suggest problems were beginning to be addressed by a competent management team, building on some of the prison’s strengths.

Chelmsford seemed to be a reasonably settled prison and prisoners’ perceptions of safety hadn’t changed since our last inspection, with about a fifth of all prisoners feeling unsafe. However, prisoners on the older wings felt the least safe and those wings experienced the most number of violent incidents. Violence and bullying had increased sharply and there was evidence that this was linked to drugs and debt. Work was being done to address violence and victimization but greater coordination of effort and initiative was needed.

Chelmsford is a frontline establishment taking new prisoners from the streets, so it was encouraging to see basically sound reception and induction arrangements, although first night accommodation should have been better. Security was managed reasonably well but drugs availability, in particular the availability of new psychoactive substances (NPS), was a big problem. The prison was taking this seriously with a detailed action plan and active response to NPS, led directly by the governor. Use of force had also increased and had nearly doubled since we last inspected. Arrangements to account for its use were not good enough.

Of further concern were the four self-inflicted deaths since the last inspection and the considerable increase in incidents of self-harm to a level far higher than at similar prisons. The prison was working to implement recommendations made following the investigation of these deaths and case management of those at risk was reasonable. Prisoners we spoke to who were at risk spoke positively about the care they had received. The quality of respect in the prison was mainly sustained by some very good relationships between staff and prisoners; this was an institutional strength. The disparity in the quality of accommodation between the older and the newer wings was, however, huge, with the older accommodation overcrowded, difficult to maintain and difficult to keep clean. The governor spoke of considerable difficulties with the performance of the Facilities Management Company, whose job, among other things, was to repair and maintain the site.

Structures were in place to promote equality for prisoners with protected characteristics but in reality their outcomes were disappointing and mixed. Work to promote the interests of the small population of young adults had lapsed, which again was disappointing. A further concern was the deterioration in the quality of health care. Weak partnerships, staff shortages and poor clinical governance had all contributed to a provision we judged to be inadequate.

Most prisoners had a reasonable amount of time out of cell, although this was not the case for a significant minority. Our Ofsted colleagues judged the overall effectiveness of learning and skills provision in Chelmsford as ‘requiring improvement’, but there were early signs that the new management team was beginning to develop a vision for this work that would deliver improvement.

Operational management was, however, not good enough for the time being. There was, for example, sufficient work and education for all prisoner s to have at least some part-time activity, yet inadequate allocation had left many prisoners with nothing to do at all. Attendance and punctuality required improvement, although behaviour management in class was good. Standards of teaching, learning and assessment all required improvement, but achievement of accredited qualifications was better.

The greatest deterioration in outcomes was in the prison’s resettlement work, which we had previously described as good. The reducing reoffending strategy was not informed by an analysis of need and recent weaknesses in management were only now being rectified. Offender management work was poor and undermined by staff shortages, a backlog of offender (OASys) assessments and poor quality casework. Too many prisoners were transferred out of Chelmsford without an OASys assessment or sentence plan to inform their move. Public protection work also required improvement. The high turnover of prisoners – about 100 were released each month – placed a big demand on resettlement services. The input from the knowledgeable community resettlement company (CRC) meant that initial assessments, referrals and pre-release reviews were generally good. We found a good range of resettlement provision, but because of a lack of reliable data, we were unable to establish how effective some of the provision was – for example, how many prisoners were released into accommodation or how many had a job to go to on release.

Chelmsford was a prison in transition. Overall it remained a competent place with evident strengths to build on, despite some disappointing findings. Recent operational challenges, particularly around violence and drugs, had taken a toll and there were a number of strategic challenges such as health care, offender management and, most important of all, improving the treatment and conditions of those held in the older accommodation. The governor and his team seemed to be working hard to deal with these priorities and we are optimistic that they will get to grips with the issues we highlight in this report.


Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM

June 2016

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons


Return to Chelmsford


The full reports can be read at the Ministry of Justice web site, just follow the links below: