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High levels of drug-fuelled violence at Essex prison, inspection reveals

An inspection of HMP and YOI Chelmsford revealed a high level of drug-fuelled violence Picture: GOOGLE MAPS

An inspection of HMP and YOI Chelmsford revealed a high level of drug-fuelled violence Picture: GOOGLE MAPS

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An Essex prison has been labelled violent and unsafe after an inspection revealed high rates of drug-fuelled violence and self harm.

HMP and YOI Chelmsford was also found to have large amounts of drugs smuggled in by organised gangs, according to HMP Chief Inspector of prisons Peter Clarke.

Levels of violence were ‘far too high’ at the prison and not enough was being done to unsure the underlying causes of the problem were understood or addressed, his report revealed.

The inspection showed much of the violence was related to the supply and use of illicit drugs and that the positive drug test rate was among the highest the inspector had seen - at more than 40% of the prison population.

The levels of illicit material in the prison were also consistently high - in a single month the prison seized 28 drug packages, 44 mobile phones and 19 parcels thrown over the wall.

The value of the illicit haul was estimated at more than £15,000.

High rates of self harm and suicide were also noted, with 16 self-inflicted deaths over eight years.

The report also reveals the prison was heavily overcrowded, particularly in the older blocks which date back to the 1830s, with many cells in a poor state of repair.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the increase in violence, the self-inflicted deaths, the ready availability of drugs and the unacceptably poor living conditions led him to seriously consider invoking the Urgent Notification (UN) protocol.

This publicly requires the Secretary of State for Justice to take urgent action to tackle significant problems in a jail and has been invoked just four times since the protocol was ratified in November 2017.

However, his confidence in the prison’s capacicty for change and improvement pusuaded gum not to invioke the protocol.

Mr Clarke said: “Leadership at both local and regional level readily acknowledged the gravity of the issues facing the jail, and HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) had already placed the prison in ‘special measures’.

“As long as the leadership of the prison remains consistent, and vital regional-level HMPPS support continues, there is no reason why the very serious problems afflicting the prison cannot be addressed.”

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