In its annual report for the period September 2018 to August 2019, the members of the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) at Chelmsford prison were pleased to see the refurbishment of some of the jail’s Victorian wings, to note that a greater number of experienced and better trained officers had been recruited and that the previous, underperforming, healthcare provider had been replaced.
However, the Board was very concerned:
- That drugs, mobile phones and other contraband was still far too readily available throughout the prison, fuelling violence, and bullying and potentially allowing some prisoners to continue their criminality from their cells.
- With the poor physical condition of the segregation unit, which needs major refurbishment and made it, in the view of the IMB, not fit for purpose.
- That far too many prisoners remained locked in their cells for long periods, often for up to 22 hours a day at weekends.
- That education and work for prisoners was only provided on a part time basis, making it more difficult for them to improve their chances of obtaining employment on release.
- That the number of violent incidents between prisoners increased during the reporting year as did incidents of self-harm and, sadly, three self-inflicted deaths occurred.
Unfortunately the general election has meant that publication of this report has been delayed and since August 2019 the Board has been concerned to note that:
- The prison has become overcrowded and, for a variety of reasons, far too often, insufficient numbers of officers are available to allow the prison to provide a full regime while keeping prisoners safe;
- The prison has been unable properly to deliver one of its flagship projects: the Key Worker scheme, under which each officer should mentor specific prisoners, helping them to resolve issues and guiding them towards release. Contact with a Key Worker reduces prisoners’ anxieties and helps to reduce levels of violence.
The IMB acknowledges the care, professionalism, and dedication shown by the managers, officers and other members of the Prison’s staff in a challenging environment and accepts that a lack of financial and other resources attributable to government policies has contributed to many of the failings described in the report.