HMP Elmley - a greatly improved prison, but still more to do

HMP 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.”


Notes to editors:    

  1. Read the report.
  1. HM Inspectorate of Prisons is an independent inspectorate, inspecting places of detention to report on conditions and treatment, and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public.
  2. HMP Elmley is a category B local prison serving the courts of Kent.
  3. This announced inspection was carried out on 19 and 20 October and 16-20 November 2015.
  4. Please contact Jane Parsons at HMI Prisons press office on 020 3681 2775 or 07880 787452 if you would like more information.