Description of the establishment
HMP Elmley is a local prison situated on the Isle of Sheppey which serves the courts of Kent. It was originally part of the Sheppey cluster of three prisons but is now a stand-alone establishment which presently has an operational capacity of 1,088. Elmley opened in February 1992. It was built on the Bullingdon design and originally consisted of four house blocks, each designed to accommodate 155 prisoners, and a segregation unit which can house seven. In later years, two further house blocks were constructed and the single cells were converted to doubles. For some time, the cells in the original house blocks were used as trebles, although these have now, thankfully, been returned to doubles. The prison houses remand and sentenced adult prisoners, as well as young adults. The population consists of a number of vulnerable prisoners, foreign nationals, those with drug dependency and/or mental health issues, life-sentenced prisoners, a growing number of older prisoners and many with disabilities.
How safe is the prison?
Drugs, debt and bullying are still featured, even during the restrictions of the EDM. How fairly and humanely are prisoners treated? The Board considers that, given the conditions due to COVID-19, the treatment of prisoners was as fair as possible. Their initial acceptance of the situation was positive, knowing that there was a national lockdown. The prison officers, view was that the lockdown created a safe environment with fewer opportunities for violence. The management adapted the EDM to provide more activity for prisoners and ease the growing tension that developed after the early months. This was hampered by the pandemic affecting staff numbers and the need to limit interaction between prisoners, to prevent the spread of any infection.
How well are prisoners’ health and wellbeing needs met?
Mental health issues became more complex with the added anxiety about family and friends outside, and the limited contact with them. The prison tried to ease the situation with extra telephone credit and the possibility of video calls, and the chaplaincy was very active in its support. Prisoners welcomed in-cell activity packs, and there was a higher-than-expected take-up of the education packs that the prison worked so hard to develop with Weston College. Access to medical treatment inside the prison continued routinely, apart from dentistry, which is comparable with National Health Service treatment outside.
How well are prisoners progressed towards successful resettlement?
The situation with finding accommodation on release has not improved since last year’s report. The establishment policy of interviewing prisoners prior to release had to be suspended during the COVID-19 restrictions. Where previously they could expect help to set up bank accounts and apply for identification documents to claim benefits, prisoners are currently thrown back on their own resources once they leave HMP Elmley. Transfers to establishments that provide appropriate courses to address offending slowed down considerably, in line with a national policy of containing the spread of infection.
Main areas for development and evidence can be accessed here.