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Wednesday, 15 November, 2000, 15:09 GMT
Inspectors condemn 'sick' prison
Chelmsford Prison
Chelmsford Prison: "Woefully inadequate"
A prison where some inmates were locked up for up to 22 hours a day has been described as a "sick" institution and "college for crime".

In a report published on Wednesday the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Sir David Ramsbotham, was highly critical of the treatment of prisoners at Chelmsford Prison, the methods of its governor and the attitude of some staff.

The governor who was in charge of Chelmsford at the time of the inspection, Alison Gomme, was moved to another job at the end of last month.

HMP Chelmsford is a sick prison, suffering from some chronic deficiencies and in urgent need of managerial attention

Sir David Ramsbotham
But a prison service spokesman said her move had already been planned and was not linked to the report.

Inspectors who made a surprise visit in April found that prisoners were rarely out of their cells for more than three hours a day.

They also discovered that the inmates were forbidden to attend church services and had little access to educational sessions due to staff shortages.

Cases of self-harm among prisoners were higher than average with one attempted hanging per month and the prison used high levels of restraint and control procedures.

In the report, Sir David Ramsbotham noted that some improvements had been made but said many problems had got worse since the last inspection 17 months ago.

'Unacceptable attitude'

"Until the unacceptable attitude and inflexibility of many staff at Chelmsford are tackled, the treatment of and conditions for prisoners at the prison will continue to be woefully inadequate," he said.

Liberal Democrat Bob Russell, of the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, said the prison had become a "college for crime".
Martin Narey
Martin Narey says radical changes are planned

"Too little emphasis has been put on the education and training of prisoners," he said.

"But the real problem for the Prison Service as a whole is spending cuts.

"I visited the prison on two occasions and the conditions for prisoners, especially for vulnerable and young offenders, were seriously below standard."

The prison's new governor, Paul Haley, has defended his staff.

"I have found in my three weeks walking around the place no real underlying evidence of what the chief inspector says about the negative attitude of staff," he said.

Extra government funding for the service could prevent two-thirds of suicides amongst these vulnerable prisoners

Bob Russell
His view was echoed by the prison's Board of Visitors.

A spokesman said they were disappointed that Sir David had not recognised the valuable work being done by staff in difficult circumstances.

The Director General of the Prison Service, Martin Narey, said he was aware of the problems at Chelmsford but some progress had been made towards rectifying them.

He said further improvements were planned under an action plan and the results would be reported to ministers.

Another inspection of Chelmsford Prison is due to take place in six months.

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