HMP Elmley – Weaknesses across all areas but plans and staffing in place to make progress

HMP Elmley, a large men’s prison on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent, was found to have become less safe over the last four years and was assessed by inspectors as not sufficiently good across all aspects of prison life.

However, Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said Elmley was “not without hope” as the Governor and management clearly understood the weaknesses and had credible plans to address them.

At the time of the inspection in April and May 2019, Elmley held over 1,100 prisoners, with significant numbers of foreign nationals and sex offenders. The prison was last inspected in 2015.

It was pleasing, Mr Clarke said, to see some improvements to the reception and induction of new prisoners. Violence was lower than in similar prisons, though a quarter of prisoners still said they felt unsafe. The prison was urged to conduct more thorough investigations into the factors driving violence.

Nearly half of prisoners said it was easy to obtain illicit drugs in the prison and 22% tested positive during random mandatory drug tests, but there was no comprehensive drug supply reduction strategy. However, care for those in crisis or at risk of self-harm was reasonably good.

Inspectors saw too many examples of lowlevel poor behaviour, such as open vaping on wings, prisoners being inappropriately dressed, the use of bad language and play-fighting, going unchallenged. “Inexperienced staff needed to be given the confidence to challenge such poor behaviour, and this required them to be supported and mentored by their more experienced colleagues,” Mr Clarke said. “However, we saw young, inexperienced staff being left alone on landings while groups of their colleagues congregated in wing offices.”

Living conditions were variable across the prison, and overall standards of cleanliness were not good enough. No fewer than 180 prisoners were allocated to working on the wings, but many were not fully or meaningfully employed or supervised.

The strategic management of rehabilitation and release planning needed more attention. Although there was some good work being carried out – including the management of multi-agency public protection arrangements (MAPPA) for high-risk cases – significant improvement was needed in many other areas.

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“While it was disappointing to find that the prison had not managed to improve since the last inspection, and that on this occasion all our judgements were ‘not sufficiently good’, the picture was not without hope. The prison had a number of credible plans to address the weaknesses, and those weaknesses were clearly acknowledged.

“There was also a full staff complement, so in terms of both plans and people, the prerequisites to make progress were in place. I was invited to regard Elmley as an establishment that was going through a transitional phase.

“There could be little doubt that this was a genuinely held aspiration, and I was given the clear impression that the senior team were fully aware of the amount of hard work and focused leadership that would be required to turn the aspiration into reality.”

Notable features from this inspection

The prison held 636 category C and 40 category D prisoners.

22% tested positive for drugs

There were 189 foreign national prisoners.

181 prisoners were sex offenders.

The prison had a full complement of uniformed staff.