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16 Aug 2016

Chelmsford prison: Dangerous and failing

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on Chelmsford prison, published today (Tuesday 16 August).

Inspectors visited the prison in April and found that levels of violence had risen sharply, drugs were easy to get and the rate of suicide and self-injury was far higher than at comparable prisons.

Four prisoners had taken their own lives since the last inspection, which was conducted in 2014. One in five prisoners said that they felt unsafe.

Much of the increase in bullying, assaults and fights was thought to be linked to drugs and debt. Half of all prisoners said that it was easy to obtain illegal drugs.

Work to resettle prisoners on release had seen the greatest deterioration. About 100 men are released from Chelmsford each month, but management of the process was weak and staff shortages were having an impact.

Inside the prison, many men struggled to get the basics, such as clean clothes, bedding and cleaning materials. Healthcare was inadequate, for which inspectors said that staff shortages, weak partnerships and poor clinical governance were to blame.

Learning and skills provision was rated by Ofsted as requiring improvement. Unemployed prisoners could spend as many as 23 hours a day locked inside their cells.

Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This is the latest in a long series of inspection reports that reveal how the prison system is failing as it contends with the disastrous consequences of chronic overcrowding and deep cuts to budgets.

“Men are dying in Chelmsford prison. It is a jail where men can get illegal drugs but cannot get clean clothes or adequate healthcare. Violence and bullying are rife.

“The rehabilitation revolution that we were promised has not materialised. As prisons struggle, probation reforms have resulted in more people being recalled to custody – feeding the problem even more.

“Cramming more and more men into these dangerous institutions is like throwing them into a fast-flowing river, to be swept away into deeper currents of crime.”

Notes to editors

  1. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
  1. A copy of the Chelmsford inspection report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from Tuesday 16 August.


Rob Preece
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