HMP Swaleside: A Dangerous Prison

swalesideHMP Swaleside was a dangerous prison, but there were signs it was starting to stabilise, said Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the training prison on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent.

HMP Swaleside held just over 1,100 adult men, all serving long or indeterminate sentences. At its last inspection in Spring 2014, significant staffing shortages were having a negative impact and safety, education, work, training, and resettlement were not sufficiently good. At this more recent inspection, outcomes had further deteriorated, with safety being of particular concern. Swaleside had been struggling for some time and the population had become more challenging, with a much higher proportion of category B prisoners, often relatively young men early in their sentence. Many staff had become demotivated and overwhelmed and many were temporary or inexperienced. There had been four governors in the past five years.

Inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • levels of violence were too high and many incidents were serious – 69% of prisoners surveyed said they had felt unsafe at some time;
  • the use of force was high and the documentation associated with its use and justification was totally inadequate;
  • 52% of prisoners surveyed said it was easy to get drugs at the prison, 45% said the same about alcohol, and the diversion of prescribed medication was worrying;
  • the segregation unit was filthy and poor in all respects;
  • there was a shortfall of some 200 available work, training or education places to enable prisoners to be fully occupied; and
  • much offender management work was inadequate in supporting men to reduce the risk they posed.

However, inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • men valued being in single cells, and they had the opportunity to cook their own food in wing kitchens;
  • there were credible and funded plans in place to improve the range and quality of work available at the prison and an innovative approach to supporting men involved in distance learning;
  • some good work had been done to develop support in maintaining contact with families and friends;
  • the prison continued to offer an appropriate range of offending behaviour programmes; and
  • the psychologically informed planned environment (PIPE) offered an excellent approach to treating prisoners with very challenging behaviour and personality disorders.

Peter Clarke said:

“Despite the fact that by any standards this is a poor report about a dangerous prison, we left Swaleside with some optimism that the prison had started to stabilise. The new governor appeared to have a very clear understanding of the challenges he and his team faced. He had re-energised his senior management team, and his approach was one of visible and energetic leadership. The very early signs, at the time of the inspection, were that his determination to grip difficult issues had been welcomed by many prisoners and staff alike, who told us they wanted to see the prison improve. The challenge will be to build and maintain this early momentum and embed the changes needed.”

A copy of the full report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from 26 July 2016 at: www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons

Prison Officer spared jail over illicit prisoner affair

Kathryn Finch
Kathryn Finch

An Isle of Sheppey prison admin officer who had a secret relationship with a gangster serving life for murder has been spared jail.

Kathryn Finch, 37, enjoyed dozens of illicit phone conversations with Carl Gordon while she was employed as an clerk at HMP Swaleside in Eastchurch.

Former gym instructor Gordon, now 27, was locked up in 2006 after stabbing Michael Campbell, 21, in Turnham Green, west London after a row over a vandalised car.

During his time at the category B prison, Gordon joined forces with 58-year-old arms dealer Paul Alexander – who supplied weapons to the gang behind the murder of schoolboy Rhys Jones – to run an underworld gun ring from behind bars.

Gordon and Finch, of Bramley Way, Eastchurch, exchanged 25 phone calls and more than 60 text messages between April 13, 2011, and May 31, 2011 at Swaleside.

She admitted a single charge of unauthorised transmission of an image of sound by electronic communication from within a prison at Southwark Crown Court.

The mother-of-three has now been sentenced to 14 months’ imprisonment – suspended for two years.
Judge Peter Testar said Finch has a weak personality and was probably targeted by Gordon for “his own purposes”.
Catherine Rabaiotti, defending, said Finch was suffering from depression, anxiety and alcoholism.
Finch was also given a 12-month supervision order with activity requirements to attend a women’s group and undergo training or work.