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12 Oct 2018

Howard League responds to Chelmsford prison inspection

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on Chelmsford prison, published today (Friday 12 October).

Inspectors visited the prison in May and June this year and found that it had “serious problems”.

Sixteen men had lost their lives through suicide in the last eight years – including four since the previous inspection, which was conducted in 2016. Another man died by suicide a few weeks later.

Violence had increased. Drugs were readily available. Some prisoners were locked in their cells for 21 to 22 hours every day.

The inspection report states that conditions were so bad that Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons considered invoking the Urgent Notification protocol, but he decided not to as plans were in place to improve the prison. An “important first step” had been the decision to remove 50 men from the prison.

The prison remains overcrowded, however. Figures on the Howard League website show that, although the prison is designed to accommodate 521 men, it was being asked to look after 618 at the end of August.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This is yet another concerning inspection report on an overburdened and under-resourced prison that is being asked to look after more prisoners than it is designed to hold and proving unable to keep them safe.

“The decision to move 50 prisoners out of Chelmsford is a tacit admission that overcrowding is a root cause of the prison’s troubles. This appears to be the default response when a jail descends into crisis – already this year, we have seen it happen at Nottingham, Bedford and Birmingham.

“But moving men from struggling prison to struggling prison will not solve the problems that afflict the system as a whole. We must stop robbing Peter to pay Paul.

“Sending fewer people to prison in the first place would save lives, protect staff and prevent more people being swept into deeper currents of crime, violence and despair.”

Action plans drawn up in response to damning inspection reports on Nottingham, Bedford and Birmingham show that all three prisons have had their populations reduced – by 50, 56 and 300 respectively.

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 will be available from Friday 12 October on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website.
  1. The initial response action plan for Nottingham prison can be read online.
  1. Earlier this week, the Secretary of State for Justice, David Gauke, revealed that a further 56 men had been removed from Bedford prison.
  1. The initial response action plan for Birmingham prison can be read online.


Rob Preece
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