A scathing report on HMP & YOI Chelmsford, a prison in Essex, revealed that large volumes of drugs were smuggled into the prison by many organized crime gang members.
42.6% of prisoners failed drugs tests, while widespread violence was due to the supply and use of illicit substances.
Psychoactive substances and drugs easily make their way into British prison in what has been branded as an epidemic by the prisons and probation ombudswoman Elizabeth Moody.
When overcrowding and under-resourcing are added to the mix, it builds up to dangerous living conditions of prisoners, symptomatic of the ongoing prison crisis in Britain.
Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the conditions in HMP & YOI Chelmsford prompted him to consider invoking the Urgent Notification protocol, requiring the Justice Secretary to step in. However, confidence in prison leadership made him believe the situation can be salvaged.
In a statement sent to Sputnik, Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of Her Majesty's Prison & Probation Service, said that even though "Chelmsford faces some significant challenges," there is a "committed team in place who will robustly tackle the issues."
"We are working closely with the police and healthcare to tackle the supply and use of drugs and to reduce violence at the prison. Progress is being made and the problems are being actively addressed. The Government is also investing £40 million across the estate to fund safety and security improvements, including airport-security style scanners, phone-blocking technology, enhanced perimeter searches and more drug detection dogs," Mr. Spurr said.
The 2016 inspection of Chelmsford exposed shortages of items including mattresses and pillows. Forty percent of prisoners who did not attend activities were locked in their cells for up to 22 hours a day, the inspectors found. Since the review, 50 prisoners were transferred from the prison, reducing the pressure on Chelmsford.
To Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, however, it was a "tacit admission that overcrowding is a root cause of the prison's troubles."
"This appears to be the default response when a jail descends into crisis — already this year, we have seen it happen at Nottingham, Bedford and Birmingham. But moving men from struggling prison to struggling prison will not solve the problems that afflict the system as a whole. We must stop robbing Peter to pay Paul," Mr. Crook suggested.
In 2018, the government had to take over control of Birmingham Prison after an inspection found it to be in a "state of crisis." Other prisons, where conditions were slammed by reviewers or required response, included HMP Liverpool, HMP Lewes, HMP Bedford, HMP Swaleside and HMS Inverness.