IRP Chelmsford

The prison inspectors have made a follow up  IRP to Chelmsford after their inspection in May 2018. In the summary of their report they said:

“At our inspection of HMP Chelmsford in May-June 2018 we made the following judgements about outcomes for prisoners.

  • Safety : Poor,  (2016 not sufficiently good)
  • Respect: Not sufficiently good, (2016 not sufficiently good)
  • Purposeful activity: Poor, (2016 not sufficiently good)
  • Rehabilitation & release planning: Reasonably good , (2016 not sufficiently good)

HMP Chelmsford is a medium-sized local prison holding prisoners on remand and sentenced. It had an operational capacity of over 700 but at the time of this review visit the population had been reduced by about 60 to enable the refurbishments of some wings. However, this reduction was a temporary measure and we were told that HMPPS would increase the population in the very near future. As the prison was overcrowded even with the reduced population, we had major concerns about the return to the unacceptable overcrowding we saw last year and the inevitable impact of this, particularly on safety and decency.

The last full inspection was carried out in June 2018 and we had key concerns in many areas of our healthy prison tests, which had persisted and even deteriorated in some areas since the previous inspection in 2016.

We gave our lowest possible judgement on safety because of several major concerns. For example, the level of violence was very high and some was serious. There was a lack of insight into the causes of violence and little action taken to reduce it, despite a desire by staff to make improvements. Illicit drugs and other banned items were easy to obtain, and the mandatory drug testing (MDT) rate was one of the highest recorded in England and Wales. Prisoners at risk of self-harm were not managed well enough, and there had been a high number of self-inflicted deaths – 16 in the previous eight years.

The living conditions for prisoners were mixed, and there were unacceptable standards of cleanliness and lack of access to some very basic items. Prisoners were immensely frustrated at not being able to resolve even the simplest of problems or get answers to applications. Health care leadership needed improving and some important areas of the provision needed urgent attention.

Purposeful activity also received our lowest judgement. The lack of time out of cell, with many prisoners spending up to 22 hours a day locked up, was a major concern. Although Ofsted was unable to join us at this review visit, it will follow up its concerns about lack of purposeful activity and other provision found in 2018 through a monitoring visit in the near future.

I did not issue an Urgent Notification in 2018 as I had confidence that the new governor would make progress on and strive to make the improvements we were seeking following that inspection.

At this independent review of progress we followed up nine main recommendations. We found good or reasonable progress in four of these, all relating to some of the key aspects of safety and respect that had concerned me last year. In the other five recommendations, we judged there to be insufficient progress.

Levels of violence had continued to increase since last year, but it was clear that action taken by the prison had led to a reduction in serious incidents. There was also better resourcing of the safer custody team and improved analysis of data with a clearer understanding of the causes of violence, alongside the introduction of a range of initiatives to tackle perpetrators and support victims. However, the availability of banned items and the use of illicit drugs continued to underpin much of the violence.

The number of deaths in custody through suicide and the suspected use of illicit drugs remained worrying, but there had been reasonable progress in improving the quality of care for prisoners in crisis or at risk of self-harm. However, the prison needed to keep recommendations from the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) under constant review to ensure that progress was sustained.

The prison had made progress in improving living conditions. Major investment in refurbishments on some of the older wings had delivered much needed improvement to the conditions of many showers, toilets and cells. Prisoners now had better access to basic items, such as bedding and pillows, although the prison needed to do more to sustain this advance. The prison had dealt with most of the litter and rubbish we had seen previously in the external communal areas and cell window grilles.

There had also been reasonable progress in the provision of health care. The new provider commenced just two weeks before this review visit and had already begun to address many of our concerns.

I found insufficient progress in achieving the recommendations we made in the remaining five areas. The prison had taken some active steps to stem the flow of drugs and other illicit items into the prison, and this had resulted in a lower MDT rate and a reduction in the contraband thrown over the wall into the prison. However, it was inexcusable that HMPPS had still not equipped the prison with more up-to-date drug detection equipment. For this reason, I judged the progress made since our inspection to be insufficient. Chelmsford needed to make further reductions in the supply of drugs a priority to safeguard prisoners’ health and well-being, as well as making the prison safer by reducing violence and debts.

Consultation with prisoners had improved but needed to be more widely publicised across the prison. The introduction of prisoner information desk (PID) workers was positive but the prison had not addressed the fundamental weaknesses in the application and complaints processes sufficiently well – some prisoners remained frustrated at their inability to gain answers to simple requests or queries.

Time out of cell, although more predictable across the prison, remained very limited, particularly in the evening and at weekends and for those not involved in purposeful activity. Despite the governor’s aspiration to provide at least one hour a day for outdoor exercise, most prisoners still only had 30 minutes, which was not enough.

In rehabilitation and release planning, I had had concerns about the delivery of the community rehabilitation company (CRC)4 contract, and some key weakness in offender management arrangements. The CRC provision through the crime reduction charity Nacro5had shown reasonable progress with clear signs of further advances under way. There had been little development in increasing offender supervisor contact with some prisoners, and the interdepartmental risk management team was not well defined and did not provide the oversight needed for high-risk prisoners being released into the community.

Last year, I clearly noted my confidence in the prison’s capacity for change and improvement, and this was well-founded. The governor continued to set a clear vision for the prison and had retained the support of those around her. We have identified good or reasonable progress in four key areas, and this report makes clear what needs to be done to make advances in the remaining weak areas. While additional regional and national resources had been used to good effect, the lack of more sophisticated drug detection equipment was indefensible, and the easy availability of drugs continued to undermine other progress made.

Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM                                                 April 2019

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons”

To read the full IRP click the link below:

HMP Chelmsford IRP (516.54 kB), Report on an independent review of progress at HMP Chelmsford (15-17 April 2019

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