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40% of prison’s inmates test positive for drugs

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The large number of gang members at Chelmsford Prison has led to one of the UK’s highest numbers of prisoners positively testing for drugs.

Levels of violence were “far too high”, as was the use of force by staff, prison inspectors have said following an unannounced visit to the Essex prison between 21 May and 7 June.

Suicide and self-harm levels among the 700 male prisoners were very high, and the “majority” of staff were inexperienced, inspectors concluded in the report published on Friday.

They said much of the violence was related to the supply and use of illicit drugs, with large volumes smuggled in by the many organised crime gang members imprisoned there.

More than 40% of prisoners tested positive for drugs – among the highest the inspectors had ever seen.

In one month prison officers seized 28 drug packages, 44 mobile phones and 18 parcels that had been thrown over the perimeter wall, with the estimated total value of more than £15,000.

There were also high levels of suicide and self-harm, with 16 self-inflicted deaths over eight years – and another was reported a few weeks after the inspection.

Inspectors said the prison’s response to suicide and self-harm was inadequate.

They also noted the prison was “heavily overcrowded”, with many cells in a poor state of repair.

There was also poor provision of purposeful activity, including training and education, while prisoners had “severely restricted” time out of their cells.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said he seriously considered invoking the Urgent Notification protocol which requires justice secretary David Gauke to take urgent action.

The protocol has been invoked four times across British prisons since it was approved last November.

However, Mr Clarke did not because he concluded that the acting governor was highly respected by her staff and was receiving “invaluable support” from a new regional prison group director.

The important first step included removing 50 prisoners from the prison, he said.

Mentoring and support for new staff has been introduced, the senior management team strengthened and officer supervision improved, he added.

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.”

(c) Sky News 2018: 40% of prison’s inmates test positive for drugs