Published: 14:00, 22 April 2014
Budget cuts, high levels of staff sickness and overcrowded cells are among a string of concerns highlighted by a report into a Sheppey jail.
The Independent Monitoring Board's (IMB) annual inspection of HMP Elmley, in Eastchurch, revealed cost-saving measures, including cuts to staffing levels have "significantly changed" the way the site operates.
It found although staff have adapted well to the changes and have maintained a "safe and secure environment", the rate of staff sickness - which is one of the highest in the country - is now a worry.
Combined with the lower staffing levels, this has led to inmates being locked in cells and segregation units for longer and even reception staff stepping in to provide cover as well as delays in processing of prisoners' property and administration.
Resources continue to be stretched "to the limits" by an "eclectic mix" of up to 1,250 category B and C inmates, including young offenders, vulnerable prisoners and foreign nationals, the report said.
"The current delay in inquests resulting from deaths in custody is unacceptable and recommends that a proposed solution is sought from the minister responsible as a matter of priority..." - Independent Monitoring Board report
There were two deaths in custody this year, both which appear to be self-inflicted, while the jail has 10 open inquests, the longest of which is three years old.
Bob Chapman, chairman of the IMB at Elmley, said: "The board finds that the current delay in inquests resulting from deaths in custody is unacceptable and recommends that a proposed solution is sought from the minister responsible as a matter of priority."
At the end of the inspection period, which ran from November 1, 2012 to October 31, 2013, there were 81 cells housing three occupants in conditions designed for two.
The report said: "Whilst this is a decrease from the last annual report, the board still continue to find this unacceptable and to breach human rights."
HMP Elmley is one of 70 sites across the UK which are to become resettlement prisons in the autumn. They aim to cut reoffending through increased supervision and support as soon as a sentence begins.
It could also mean more offenders will be released from prisons in - or near - the area in which they will live.
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