There have been eight suicides and four non-natural deaths in the last three years in a failing prison that has not received a positive inspection for more than a decade. After visiting HMP Chelmsford in August this year, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Charlie Taylor invoked the urgent notification process requiring the justice minister to put in place an action plan to address concerns within 28 days.
Similar concerns about the category B prison which holds 712 prisoners were expressed following the previous inspection in 2018 however Taylor was reassured by both the management and prison service that conditions would improve. ‘Sadly, that optimism was misplaced,’ Taylor reported in the latest inspection as well as the enthusiasm of the new governor.
‘The last time we were able to write a positive report about this prison was 10 years ago and it was clear to us that the jail was failing in its basic duty to keep those it held safe,’ Taylor wrote. The report highlighted a ‘negative and damaging staff culture’. ‘Many staff were new or inexperienced, their morale was low and they were disengaged from their work and dismissive of the men in their care,’ it continued. ‘Prisoners found it very difficult to access even the most basic entitlements and were frustrated that they could not get things done. We were told that this frustration had led to an increase in assaults on staff.’
The ‘negative culture’ among some staff was compounded by ‘a lack of management oversight or accountability’ which allowed ‘poor staff behaviour and practice to go unchallenged’.
Over a quarter of prisoners told inspectors that they felt unsafe at the time of this inspection and more than half had felt unsafe at some point. Almost half the prisoners in our survey said that they had been ‘victimised’ by staff. ‘Violence remained high, with the number of incidents still among the highest for all local prisons,’ inspectors said.