Published: 00:01, 12 November 2014
Increasing rates of assault, drug abuse and suicide at HMP Elmley have been blamed on staff shortages in a damning report following an unannounced inspection.
Like neighbouring HMP Swaleside, the prison is seriously understaffed, with inmates locked in cells for up to 23 hours a day because there are no officers to supervise work or education.
HM Inspectorate of Prisons, which visited Elmley in June, also found high levels of drug abuse at the prison with 40% of inmates reporting it was easy to get narcotics, particularly the synthetic cannabis substitute Spice.
The overall number of fights has increased by 60% over the past year, and self-harm is also rising.
“How could we possibly imagine sending someone to this environment will make them a better person who is less likely to reoffend?” - Andrew Neilson, The Howard League for Penal Reform
Five inmates have committed suicide since the last inspection in 2012.
Some inmates were so scared to be on the wings they purposely aimed to get placed in segregation, and refused to leave once there.
Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at The Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The government has decided that rather than reduce the prison population it will try and reduce the cost of prisons.
“The cuts are biting hard and they are causing the problems this report brings to light, creating a violent, unsafe environment where drug abuse is rife.
“How could we possibly imagine sending someone to this environment will make them a better person who is less likely to reoffend?”
According to the Howard League for Penal Reform, the three prisons have seen a 41% reduction in officers, from 740 in August 2010, to just 440 for a population of 2,796 prisoners.
Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, said Elmley needed to recruit more staff “as a matter of urgency.”
Recently the Ministry of Justice posted a job advert in hopes of recruiting 81 new prison officers to be spread between Elmley, category B Swaleside and Standford Hill open prison.
Elmley alone holds 1,252 men, well above its certified normal accommodation of 985 - almost 200 prisoners are held three to a cell designed for two, with another 400 sharing a cell intended for one.
The Ministry of Justice is searching far afield for new prison officers, having opened the 81 positions up to recruits from countries outside the European Economic Area.
Mr Neilson said: “The south east has a recruitment problem. The starting salary is not enough to compete; you can earn more as a baggage handler at Heathrow.”
The National Offender Management Service said temporary staff had been drafted in at Elmley until the permanent positions could be filled.
Michael Spurr, chief executive officer of the National Offender Management Service, said: "Permanent recruitment is underway and Elmley will continue to receive support from other prisons until vacancies are filled to ensure that the prison can continue to operate properly and safely at all times."
KentOnline has contacted the Ministry of Justice for comment.
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