Swaleside Prison: 'Challenging' jail 'still not safe enough'

Swaleside Prison
Image caption Swaleside holds more than 1,100 prisoners, including lifers and a number of "vulnerable" inmates

Violence at a "challenging" prison, where inmates took over part of a wing, remains high and ultimately a threat to public safety, inspectors have said.

Swaleside, on the Isle of Sheppey, in Kent, suffered a disturbance in 2016, months after being labelled dangerous in a previous inspection report.

Inspectors said it had improved but "too many" prisoners still felt unsafe.

Prison Service director general Phil Copple said improved safety procedures had been introduced at the jail.

Swaleside, opened in 1988, houses more than 1,100 inmates, many of whom have psychological problems.

Among its population are an entire wing of vulnerable prisoners, another for sex offenders and a number of lifers.

Although it holds a large number of violent offenders, inspectors found more than a third of the prison's staff were inexperienced, having been in the service for less than a year.

Image caption Inspectors said violence had increased at Swaleside although the number of assaults had fallen

In his report, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke said: "Swaleside is unquestionably a difficult place to run and an institution that presents many risks."

He said the jail had become "safer and more respectful" since its last inspection, in July 2016, even though levels of violence had risen.

He said: "Core tasks of a prison that manages the type of prisoner held at Swaleside are meaningful sentence management, the reduction of risk of harm and ultimately the protection of the public.

"In these tasks Swaleside was failing badly."

'Challenging work'

And Mr Clarke said he struggled to reconcile the "plethora of supposed prisoner cleaners" with the state of the jail, with rats spotted in corridors during the inspectors' visit in December 2018, near bags of rubbish that had not been disposed of.

But he said staff had carried out "very good work" to reduce the supply of drugs and provided "some impressive care" for people at risk of self-harm.

Prisons chief Mr Copple said: "I am pleased that inspectors recognise the improvements that have been made, along with the energy and care that Swaleside staff put into what is acknowledged as their particularly challenging work.

"Clearly, more still needs to be done to address violence and give prisoners more time out of their cells."

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