HMP Elmley is the local prison for the whole of Kent, housing remand and sentenced prisoners both adult and young offenders, and has an Operational Capacity of 1252 prisoners. Occupancy in the year 2014 was constantly at the maximum level. The prison continues to house large numbers of vulnerable prisoners, Foreign Nationals, those with Drug Dependency issues, Mental Health issues, and Life Sentenced prisoners.
The Independent Monitoring Board commends the management team and staff for the manner in which they coped with a critical situation in 2014 when the prison was operating with a shortfall of 36 staff in post. As an experienced governor grade wrote prior to transferring to another position, ‘Elmley has been like no other prison I have worked in. The people who work here are dedicated to what they do and incredibly resilient in the face of adversity. They get the job done no matter what the problems are.’
Elmley continues to house prisoners with severe mental problems who would be better served in dedicated mental health facilities. Due to the shortage of such places nationally, very few prisoners are moved to such facilities despite the need.
It is also of note that despite many prisoners with social and health issues, there were no self inflicted deaths in 2015, and only one from natural causes despite an increasing number of more elderly prisoners, (165 over 50 years of age, the eldest being 88. The Board commend the positive role played by ‘Listeners’ (prisoners trained by the Samaritans to assist other prisoners feeling depressed), they have been excellent and have carried out their role efficiently and with dedication. The Listeners and Samaritan Team have been presented with an award by the High Sheriff of Kent for their work within the prison.
In the reporting period there has been a decline in the number of violent incidents in the prison. A survey in May 2015 of the ‘violence figures’, which covers all acts of violence against both staff and prisoners, revealed that Elmley had come out as the best performing prison out of its comparator group, with the lowest level of violence. Self harming by prisoners was also down on the previous year by 61% and the number on Methadone and Suboxone by 63%. This is to the credit of staff and demonstrates the progress made in ensuring a safe, healthy and stable environment within the prison.
The difficulty in recruiting new staff has been eased to a degree by the introduction of special measures at certain prisons. There is some way to go, but there are now new recruits in the ‘pipeline’. In the meantime, the prison depends on a certain number of staff from other establishments spending time ‘on detached duty’ at Elmley. All have commented positively on their time at Elmley, two in particular wrote, ‘Jane and I were wanting to say a huge thank you for looking after us so well while we were on detached duty. We have done detached duty for several years. But we were anxious about starting in a new establishment and being 245 miles from our families. Our anxieties were soon exchanged to feelings of ‘being part of something special. Yes we mean you guys.’
The prison was subject to a follow up Inspection in mid November 2015, and it was encouraging that the verbal feedback from the Chief Inspector confirmed the Board’s assessment that the prison had made considerable progress. He announced that the management team had got their priorities right, and concentrating on safety and decency was the right approach. He further stated that Elmley is now a calmer, less tense environment, and reduction in violence levels is commendable.