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Howard League blog · 19 Apr 2016

Elmley prison: How low our expectations have sunk

The prisons inspectorate published a report on Elmley prison today. Not a high-profile jail, but nevertheless important because it illustrates the dreadful state of prisons across the country and how low our expectations have sunk.

The press release accompanying today’s report praises the prison for improving. Indeed it has improved since 2014, when it was just awful.

“This inspection revealed very serious concerns,” the 2014 report reads. “At the heart of the prison’s problems was a very restricted and unpredictable regime.

“Association, exercise and domestic periods were cancelled at short notice every day. We witnessed many examples of prisoners being turned away from education and work because prison officers were not available for supervision.

“About 15 per cent of the population, or almost 200 men, were unemployed and they routinely spent 23 hours a day locked in their cells.”

Now apparently things have improved because, whilst men are still locked in their dirty cells that are infested with bed bugs, they at least have a regular regime so they know how long they are going to spend in their cells, most of the time. They still do not get to work, education or exercise when they should.

The prison is using punishments to control the establishment. Almost 10,000 additional days of imprisonment were imposed in 2014 as a response to misbehaviour. Strip searching is excessive. Staff use force, including batons, and place men in what are euphemistically called ‘special cells’.

Staff shortages in the prison are patched over by shipping officers down from other prisons on detached duty for short periods. This is destabilising for staff, inmates and for the institution.

I welcome the improvements and support managers, who are obviously working extremely hard to make a difference. But, this prison is not serving the public well.

It comes to a pretty pass when inspectors give a thumbs-up to a prison that is just a little better than all the other ones that are absolutely awful.

Come on Mr Gove, jam tomorrow is not good enough, we need something doing today.


  • John Smith says:

    Dear Frances, I have been a prison officer for over 14 years and like you i have seen this Government destroy the service. It was never perfect but things are now so out of hand i grimace every morning before going into work. Please do more to hold this administration to account for what they have created.

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