Howard League responds to Swaleside prison inspection report

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on Swaleside prison, published today (Tuesday 12 December).

Inspectors visited Swaleside, in Kent, in September 2023 and found that the prison was not overcrowded but had chronic difficulties in recruiting officers and more specialist staff. This meant that regime was restricted – about two-fifths of the men were locked in their cells during the working day – and the prison was heavily reliant on temporary staff from other jails.

Swaleside was not safe enough. The reduction of self-harm had been prioritised, and rates of violence had dropped, but both were still high in comparison to other similar prisons. Fourteen men had died in the previous two years, including seven whose deaths were recorded as ‘self-inflicted’.

Rob Preece, Communications Manager at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Swaleside prison has been struggling for many years and, in the Chief Inspector’s own words, it is hard to imagine how it would have coped, had there not been a recent reduction in the number of men held there.

“Even now, after a determined effort to reduced self-harm, the prison is not safe enough and it is being forced to rely on temporary staff arriving from elsewhere. Locking men in their cells when they could be working or in education will not help them to turn their lives around and move on from crime.

“Swaleside was built in the 1980s. We often hear about the grim conditions inside Victorian prisons, but this report should remind everyone that there are major issues in newer jails as well. When they are asked to do too much, with too little, for too long, they will fail, however old they may be.”