A PRISON has failed to make significant improvements in a bid to reduce drug taking by inmates, inspectors have found.

An Independent Review of Progress (IRP) at HMP Chelmsford found drugs “were easy to obtain”.

The inspection was carried out after “significant concerns about safety” were identified last year when nearly half of all inmates failed drug tests.

In October, inspectors made 10 recommendations to improve the prison.

This included that prisoners are held in clean and respectful living conditions and that better care should be provided to men at risk of self-harm.

Inspectors returned to the prison to review its progress in April and the findings were published by the watchdog last week.

The inspection found that the prison had made “reasonable progress” in four areas including the care provided to men who are at risk of self-harm and proactively reducing the level of violence.

There were 17 suicides at the jail between 2010 and 2018.

Chief inspector Peter Clarke said: “The number of deaths in custody through suicide and the suspected use of illicit drugs remained worrying but there had been reasonable progress in improving the quality of care for prisoners in crisis or at risk of self-harm.”

Others included improving living conditions for prisoners and ensuring there are robust governance structures and improved partnership working in place.

However Mr Clarke found that insufficient progress in five areas mean more work needed to be done at HMP Chelmsford.

Mr Clarke said: “The prison had taken some steps to stem the flow of drugs and other illicit items into the prison and this had resulted in a lower mandatory drug testing rate and a reduction in contraband thrown over the wall.

“However, it was inexcusable that the prison service had still not equipped the prison with more up-to-date detection equipment. For this reason, I judged the progress made to be insufficient.

“Chelmsford needed to make further reductions in the supply of drugs a priority to safeguard prisoners’ health and well-being, as well as making the prison safer by reducing violence and debts.”

Mr Clarke went on to state the failure to improve in this area undermined the prison’s progress in other areas including the living conditions for prisoners and the prison’s governance.