Inquest into death of Harlow prisoner highlights problems in jail where access to drugs is rife

Crime / Fri 10th Nov 2023 at 04:16pm

A RECENT inquest into the death of a prison at Chelmsford prison, where where many inmates from the Harlow area are held, has highlighted a report from the Prison and Probation Ombudsman reports the Local Democracy Reporter.

A belated inquest was held last month into the 2020 death in HMP Chelmsford of 41-year-old John-Paul Pace, a drug dealer from Harlow, when the coroner concluded that the cause of death was drug related.

A report by the Prison and Probation Ombudsman stated that the “easy” accessibility of drugs in an Essex prison was a contributing factor to the death of the inmate.

On July 22 2020, Pace was found unresponsive in his cell at , with a post-mortem examination revealing that he had died after taking a psychoactive substance known as ‘spice’.

The drug is known to have a number of effects including a rapid heart rate, seizures and collapse.

On May 28 the same year while Pace was serving a 27-month sentence for the possession of drugs with intent to supply, he made the decision to completely withdraw from a prescribed treatment programme using methadone.

Methadone is designed to assist with overcoming opioid addiction, and in Pace’s case was prescribed to tackle his heroin use. He was also prescribed a separate course of medication to counteract symptoms of withdrawal.

In May 2018, the Prison Inspectorate found that upon visiting HMP Chelmsford “safety was poor”, and as well as the “ready availability” of illicit drugs within the prison, a worryingly high percentage of inmates had returned positive drug tests.

HMP Chelmsford had previously been placed in special measures by HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS). Following the Inspectorate’s visit in 2018, the chief inspector considered invoking the Urgent Notification protocol which would have been escalated directly to the Secretary of State, but decided against this as a new governor of the prison had recently taken up post.

The Inspectorate said that HMP Chelmsford not being equipped with more up-to-date drug screening technology was “inexcusable”, and that there was an urgent need to fit grilles on windows which illicit drugs could potentially be smuggled through. According to an annual report by the Independent Monitoring Board, in the year leading up to August 31, 2020, this essential work had not yet been completed.

The report by the Prison Ombudsman revealed that the officer who had found Pace unresponsive on July 22 erroneously fetched a senior officer for support before an emergency ‘code blue’ radio call was made to clinical staff and paramedics.

This required them to travel down two flights of stairs and two locked gates, whereas a call for clinical assistance should have been made in the first instance.

However, the officer had been seconded from HMP Leeds to HMP Chelmsford in January 2020, and so hadn’t participated in mandatory training for emergency procedures which was held in October 2019.

Although it was found that Pace had been deceased for a number of hours by the time the officer discovered him, it was decided that it was a failure on their part not to call the emergency code immediately and instead fetch a senior officer. The officer has since left HMP Chelmsford and returned to Leeds.

John-Paul Pace was described as “friendly and polite” by prison staff and held a role in the kitchen which allowed him far more time outside of his cell compared with fellow inmates. An inmate in the neighbouring cell to Pace had also said he had appeared “perfectly normal” the night prior to his death.

In her report after an investigation ionto the death Prisons and Probation Ombudsman Sue McAllister CB said: “I am concerned that Mr Pace was able to obtain illicit drugs at Chelmsford with apparent ease. The prison needs to continue its efforts to prevent the supply of and demand for illicit substances.

“The prison needs to ensure (its updated drug strategy) is implemented fully, to reduce the serious harm caused by drug use, and ensure that staff are vigilant for signs of drug use.

“I am also concerned that when an officer discovered Mr Pace unresponsive, there was a delay in calling a medical emergency code blue to alert healthcare staff. Although this made no difference to the outcome for Mr Pace as he had been dead for some time when he was found, it could be crucial in future cases.”

The Prison Inspectorate informed LDRS that it does not comment on individual cases, and so declined to provide a statement.

The Ombudsman’s report can be viewed via this link.

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2 Comments for Inquest into death of Harlow prisoner highlights problems in jail where access to drugs is rife:

2023-11-10 17:48:32

If he wasn't on the wrong side of the law he would still be here! No sympathy when it comes to dealers, one life lost is better than countless lives.

2023-11-11 00:24:25

Live by the sword, die by the sword

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