Chelmsford Prison population to be reduced

The population of a men’s prison in Essex where inspections revealed declining standards and rising deaths will be cut by almost 10 per cent, the Justice Secretary has said.

The recently appointed Justice Secretary Dominic Raab announced a new action plan on Friday September 24, which included a £1.2million investment in security, safety and living conditions at HMP and YOI Chelmsford.

It comes a month after HM Chief Inspector of Prisons Charlie Taylor to the-then Justice Secretary Robert Buckland revealed conditions at the prison had “declined disturbingly” over the last decade.

According to the letter, there have been eight self-inflicted deaths since 2018, four non-natural deaths in three years and self-harm levels have risen for four consecutive inspections.

Mr Raab said the Prison Service will cut HMP Chelmsford’s population by 55 places to 695 and spend £1.2 million on new windows, generators and showers, general maintenance, security and health and safety.

Mr Raab said: “We’re giving intensive support to Chelmsford prison to raise standards, support staff and protect vulnerable prisoners.

“We are providing more experienced staff, specialist training and refurbished facilities.

“We have a detailed action plan to help drive down violence, rehabilitate offenders, and reduce reoffending.”

According to the statement, further measures include monthly drug testing for offenders and training for night staff so they can better identify vulnerable prisoners.

Additionally, the number of “listeners” – prisoners trained by the Samaritans charity who provide mental health support – will be increased.

Mr Taylor’s letter revealed safety, negative staff culture, lack of accountability, and a poor daily regime to be key concerns from the latest inspection, which took place between 9-20 August 2021.

Many prisoners are reportedly being locked in their cell for almost 23 hours a day, and a lack of accountability and management oversight is allowing poor behaviour from staff to go unchallenged.

The letter says many staff failed to respond to basic requests from prisoners and showed only limited empathy towards them.

Almost half of the prisoners said they had been victimised by staff, particularly those with disabilities and mental health problems.

Mr Taylor wrote: “HMP & YOI Chelmsford is a violent, unsafe prison in which conditions for prisoners have declined disturbingly over recent years, despite attempts by HMPPS to support improvement.

“Many failings stem from a negative and demoralised staff culture which results in little apparent concern for (or attention to) the welfare and basic needs of a complex and, at times, vulnerable population.

Mr Taylor issued a rare Urgent Notification (UN), which allows the Chief Inspector of Prisons to directly alert the Secretary of State if they have an urgent and significant concern about a prison, according to the Government website.

Ministers had 28 days to respond and set out a detailed action plan.

Since 2018, eight prisons have been issued with a UN. Five of these have been removed from the process as a result of subsequent action plans, according to the government statement.

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Charlie Ridler

Local Democracy Reporter