Report hails prison's transformation

By Ted JeoryONE of the region's oldest and most dilapidated prisons, which has a history of poor morale among staff and inmates, has been transformed, a report has revealed.

By Ted Jeory

ONE of the region's oldest and most dilapidated prisons, which has a history of poor morale among staff and inmates, has been transformed, a report has revealed.

The annual report by the Independent Monitoring Board said Chelmsford Prison had showed a dramatic improvement during 2003/4.

It had jumped from 132nd out of 134 institutions more than a year ago to fifth on an official weighted scorecard, was now rated as a three-star establishment and was pioneering new techniques to boost morale.


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Although there remained concerns over the state of some of the damp cells at the 1828-built jail, millions of pounds is being invested in a new 120-prisoner wing with building work due to start in months.

The Independent Monitoring Board - formerly known as the Board of Visitors - said the category B jail, which houses 576 adult and young offenders, had made “outstanding” progress from August 2003 to August 2004.

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It added former prison governor Steve Rodford, who left to take up a new post in January, deserved high praise for the “drastic” changes made during his 18-month tenure.

The board said he had handpicked his own team, stamped his personality on the jail and left behind an example for his successor, Nigel Smith, to follow when he arrives in the next few weeks.

However, drug smuggling into the Springfield Road prison remained a problem, but there were no sexual assaults during the assessment period and only a handful of cases involving allegations of racism.

The board said the improved climate had come from putting more energy into “purposeful activity”.

More than 70% of inmates are now in prisoner employment compared to less than half in August 2003.

The prison library is being used more and inmates spend much time in workshops reconditioning wheelchairs and bicycles for charities that then send them abroad.

Tim Fox, chairman of the Independent Monitoring Board, said: “We're delighted that so much progress has been made - there's a really positive feel about the place now.

“But we also need to ensure we can improve further, especially the damp cells.”

Simon Cartwright, acting governor, said: “It's fantastic to see a prison transforming itself. People here can really proud of what's been achieved and it will continue under the new governor.”

ted.jeory@eadt.co.uk

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