Cuts at Elmley prison 'can only increase tensions'

Elmley prison
Image caption The report raised concerns over the delay between prison deaths and inquests

Spending cuts at a Kent jail will result in prisoners spending more time in cells and "can only increase tensions" a new report has said.

The report by the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) said there had been an "unprecedented number of serious incidents" at Elmley prison.

It said: "There is no doubt that budget cuts cannot improve the situation."

The Ministry of Justice said the report was "being considered by Ministers, and we will respond in due course".

The report said: "Any cuts that result in prisoners spending more time in cells can only increase tensions; any cuts that reduce or eradicate prisoner incentive can only increase tensions."

The IMB found that 732 incidents were investigated between November 2010 and the end of October 2011, with 593 proven. These included intimidation, bullying, fighting and assaults.

'Root causes'

"Whilst there is no direct evidence that these episodes are linked to financial cuts, there is no doubt that budget cuts cannot improve the situation," it said.

The report's author, Bob Chapman, said: "We have had budget cuts to the prison service, and to Elmley in particularly, on an ongoing basis for some years."

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: "The safety and security of prisoners and staff is of paramount importance - as is critical work to address the root causes of offending behaviour."

The IMB also said it was concerned about the number of employment places available to prisoners.

Rochester MP Mark Reckless, who sits on the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: "I think if we could get other industries and other work areas, as well as the laundry, into the prison that would be good."

But Ralph Valerio, from the Prison Officers' Association, said that would potentially be "damaging to the external forces in the economy".

Deaths in custody

He said that following the announcement of the closure of Thamesteel, jobs on the Isle of Sheppey were at a premium.

"Parliament [is] talking about bringing work into prisons at the expense of the public outside the prisons, in the name of rehabilitation," he said

The report also said there had been three deaths in custody at the prison between November 2010 and the end of October 2011.

It highlighted the delay between time of death and the inquest: "Despite this point being raised year after year, the situation does not improve and we receive no satisfactory answers. Elmley still has five, maybe six inquests outstanding from deaths as far back as 2008, or further."

The IMB also noted that some prisoners were housed in triple cells.

"This stretches the bounds of decency, and we welcome the Governor's intention to reduce or eradicate this," said the report.

The report said there was "a good standard in most areas", although "sometimes the prison was operating at or below minimum staffing levels".

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