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.

HMP ELMLEY – Safer & More Stable But More To Do

elmleyHMP Elmley was a safer and more stable prison, but had further improvements to make, said Martin Lomas, Deputy Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an announced inspection of the local jail on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent.

HMP Elmley held 1,160 adult men at the time of its inspection. Its primary function is as a category B local prison serving Kent courts but it also has a category C training function for about 240 men, about half of whom are sex offenders. At its last inspection in June 2014, inspectors had real concerns about the safety and stability of the prison. Serious staff shortages had led to a poor and unpredictable regime which was causing frustration and tension. This announced inspection 15 months later found the prison greatly improved but still with much to do.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • the prison was much safer and, contrary to national trends, levels of violence and self-harm had reduced;
  • the number of serious incidents had also significantly reduced;
  • there had been three self-inflicted deaths in 2014 but none so far in 2015;
  • the prison was seeking to improve the safety of those at risk of self-harm and recommendations from Prison and Probation Ombudsman reports into recent deaths were being implemented;
  • the prison had introduced a number of successful measures to improve the management and care of prisoners with the most complex needs and behaviours;
  • security was well managed and there was evidence that the prison’s strategy to reduce the supply and demand of ‘Spice’, a synthetic drug, was being effective;
  • there was a high demand for mental health services which were very good;
  • time out of cell had become much more predictable; and
  • most practical resettlement services were good.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • oversight of the use of force was inadequate and some serious incidents, including the use of batons, had not been investigated, record keeping was poor, and some CCTV footage showed excessive force;
  • although staff-prisoner relationships were generally positive, the prison’s continued staff shortages meant that relationships were too variable and staff had little time to develop the authoritative and positive relationships needed;
  • the physical environment of the prison was still unacceptably poor, with hundreds of prisoners in overcrowded cells and many forced to use toilets screened only by a shower curtain;
  • work, training and education were cancelled too often and attendance was poor; and
  • there was insufficient work to address the behaviour of sex offenders serving longer sentences and some elements of public protection needed improvement.


Martin Lomas said:

“HMP Elmley had made impressive progress in the 15 months since its last inspection and in important areas such as violence, self-harm and the availability of legal highs, had bucked the national trends. The prison had been right to focus on improving stability and safety. This needs to be maintained, and together with the required improvements to the environment, should now provide the platform for getting more prisoners into good quality purposeful activity and doing more to address the behaviour and progression of those serving longer sentences.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of the National Offender Management Service, said:

“I’m pleased that the Chief Inspector has acknowledged the progress at Elmley. The Governor and staff have worked hard to improve performance.

“The reduction in violence and improvement in safety is particularly welcome. This reflects a sustained effort to tackle illicit drugs and to improve support for vulnerable prisoners. As the Inspector makes clear, the positive relationships between staff and prisoners have also contributed to creating a safer environment.

“Public protection is paramount and following the inspection a more stringent system has been put in place to ensure all sex offenders now have their public protection arrangement (MAPPA) level set prior to release.”


A copy of the full report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from 19 April 2016 at: