By Local Democracy Reporter
CHELMSFORD Prison recorded one of the highest increases in assaults on staff over the past year and also had one of the highest numbers of planned incidents of insubordination of all jails in the country, new figures have shown.
It also has a growing contraband problem. Drugs were seized 239 times in the jail in 2017/18 – an increase of 15 per cent on the year before – according to data published by Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service.
In the last year, officers found 5.3 kilos of drugs in the prison, among other contraband.
Cannabis was found on 126 different occasions over the year – the second highest number of finds in all of the country’s jails.
And psychoactive substances including drugs such as Spice and Black Mamba were seized 104 times in the last year – also one of the highest in all jails in the country.
Prison officers also confiscated 395 mobile phones and 231 SIM cards from prisoners, up from 253 and 133 the year before.
Assaults on staff between the period April 2016 to March 2017 and April 2017 to March 2018 increased by 133 from 183 – a 73 per cent increase and the the country’s fifth highest increase.
The jail has also got one the most serious levels of insubordination, while prisoner on prisoner assaults increased from 406 to 483 in the two periods.
The number of incidents involving barricades increased from 44 to 64.
Prisons are rated by the Government’s prison and probation service between 1 (exceptional performance) and 4 (overall performance is of serious concern).
The prison had been rated 3 – ‘meeting the majority its targets’ from 2011 to 2016, however in 2016/17 it standard fell to 2 – ‘performance is of concern’ and in 2017/18 it fell one level further to the worst rating ‘performance is of serious concern’.
Chelmsford MP Vicky Ford said: “As the MP for Chelmsford I take the situation at the prison very seriously.
“This is why I have visited it a number of times in the past year and brought the prison minister to meet with staff last month.
“Safety of staff is a top priority for me and I have pressed the Government to make sure the prison has the staff they need and that new staff are given high quality training.
“You will see that I regularly ask questions of the prison minister in the House of Commons. There are new training methods being put in place.
“When I was first elected the prison had just been put on Pathfinder Status as it was considered one of the top ten most concerning prisons in the country.
“Staff numbers were very low. The good news is that staff recruitment has been successful with the prison now fully staffed, however this means that many of the staff are relatively inexperienced.
“I have been told that it will take some time to turn around the violence at the prison, and helping the staff with training so they can build experience to deal with challenging situations is key.
“Improving staff training is an issue which the minister focused on in his visit to Chelmsford.
“The latest numbers show the year up to March of 2018. I am concerned by the high levels of violence but this is not a new issue as the period covered includes the time when the prison was understaffed and when many new recruits were coming onboard.
“I am hoping to see continual improvements as staff levels and staff experience increases.
“The acting governor has also told me of other actions that have helped improve the situation including issuing staff with body warn cameras.
“Taking of drugs by prisoners also contributes to violence. This is why there has been a considerable effort to reduce the amount of drugs getting into the prison.
“There is now closer work with the local police to reduce drugs “throw overs” and new trained anti-drug dogs patrols at the prison perimeter.
“Mobile phone detectors have also been introduced and we have been working on new technology to block phones.
“The impact of these measures will not yet be reflected in the numbers we see.
“On a recent visit to the prison the governor told me that the nature of “assaults” had changed recently and tended to be less violent. This is obviously good but it is too early to say if this is a continual trend.
“I understand that across the UK as a whole there has been an under-reporting of assaults in the past.
“This may mean that it will not be so easy to compare data between different periods.
“Regarding the categorisation 1. Given the situation which we had early last year I am not surprised that Chelmsford prison is ranked as one ‘of concern’.
“It will take time to turn this around. When I have visited the prison I have been very impressed by the hard work of the prison staff and I will continue to press for improvements on their behalf.”