Kent

Inmate found dead in cell at overcrowded Elmley prison

Image caption A prisoner at Elmley jail told the BBC it was "a disgusting, filthy, boring, monotonous regime"

A prisoner has been found dead on the day a damning report highlighted staff shortages and overcrowding at his jail.

Levi Smith, 41, was found unresponsive in his cell at Elmley Prison at about 06:45 GMT and was pronounced dead by paramedics shortly afterwards, the Prison Service said.

His death is the seventh in custody at the Kent jail this year.

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) said high-risk inmates were not being properly assessed and managed.

Inspectors also found HMP Elmley, on the Isle of Sheppey, was overcrowded.

The prison holds 1,252 men - compared with the 985 it was designed for, they said.

Prisoners and employees were being left vulnerable as a result of staff shortages, which also meant many exercise and education sessions were cancelled.

The unannounced inspection in June also found half the posts in the offender management unit remained vacant.

Staff in the unit, which monitors offenders through their sentences, received no training or "meaningful supervision", the report said.


Analysis

By Danny Shaw, Home affairs correspondent

The Elmley report makes for grim reading. Most of the prisoners will be back on the streets within a few months or years, yet there's little to suggest that what goes on within the walls of this 1992 jail will help rehabilitate them. That's not the fault of staff. There just aren't enough of them.

Last week, the Howard League for Penal Reform published research showing the number of prison officers at Elmley and its neighbouring Isle of Sheppey prisons, Standford Hill and Swaleside, had fallen by 300 in four years, from 740 to 340.

The figures - supplied by the Ministry of Justice - are mirrored across the public sector prison estate.

A national recruitment drive is finally under way, but thousands of officers who had experience of managing the most dangerous and damaged offenders in the most challenging of environments has been largely lost to the service forever.


Inspectors also found one supervisor had 47 high-risk cases, which she had not seen for between six and eight months.

Inspectors said the prison operated on a "very restricted and unpredictable regime".

Almost 200 prisoners were held three to a cell, in spaces designed for two prisoners.

A further 416 prisoners were paired up in single cells.

The report said prisoners with disabilities were well cared for and most aspects of healthcare were good.

An inmate who called BBC Radio Kent from HMP Elmley described conditions at the jail as "disgusting".

"There's not enough staff, it's so filthy the mice wear overalls, [and] there's a notice on the board today about an infestation of bed bugs," he said.

The prisoner, whose identity has not been revealed, said they were locked up for 23 hours a day and there was "unrest" among the inmates.

"This is a disgusting, filthy, boring, monotonous regime," he told the BBC.

'Prisons crisis'

Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: "These are very concerning findings and the first priority should be to stabilise the prison."

Michael Spurr, chief executive of the National Offender Management Service, said: "When the inspectorate visited Elmley in June the prison was operating with a high level of staff vacancies.

"Permanent recruitment is under way."

Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan said the report showed all that was "wrong with the prisons system under David Cameron".

"Chronic staff shortages, rapidly increasing overcrowding and violence are the ingredients of the prisons crisis caused by (Justice Secretary) Chris Grayling's incompetent policies," he added.

"While ministers are in denial about the chaos on their watch prisoners aren't being reformed, needlessly putting public safety at risk from released prisoners returning to a life of crime."

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