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24 Nov 2021

Howard League responds to Chelmsford prison inspection report

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on Chelmsford prison, published today (Wednesday 24 November).

Inspectors visited the prison, in Essex, in August this year, and found it to be holding more than 700 men in overcrowded conditions, with piled-up rubbish and a rat infestation.

Violence was rife, and the prison’s response to the high number of incidents of suicide and self-injury was inadequate. Many of the men were locked in their cells for almost 23 hours a day and found it very difficult to get even the most basic entitlements.

The inspection report highlights a “negative and damaging” staff culture in the prison. Almost half the men who responded to the inspectorate’s survey said that they had been victimised by staff, “particularly those prisoners with disabilities and mental health problems”.

The failings were so severe that Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, Charlie Taylor, invoked the Urgent Notification process in August, giving the Secretary of State for Justice 28 days to respond publicly with a plan to improve the prison.

Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This is one of the worst prison inspection reports that we have seen in recent years.

“It is almost impossible to appreciate the sheer scale of human misery that lies within a rat-infested, violent, overcrowded prison, where hundreds of men are left to suffer in their cells for hours on end by disengaged and demoralised staff who show next to no concern for their needs.

“The only answer is to reduce the number of people held behind bars and take bold action to reshape a prison system which is failing prisoners, staff, and the country at large.”

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.
  2. A copy of the Chelmsford inspection report will be available from Wednesday 24 November on the Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons website.
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