The Chief Inspector of Prisons has released a report of an unannounced inspection of HMP Wormwood Scrubs prison in London, with shocking findings. The prison holds nearly 1,300 remand and convicted adult prisoners, and is one of the most well-known prisons in the UK. While the prisons watchdog noted that at their last inspection in 2011 they had found a prison that “had many of the basics right and was improving”, at their recent inspection they discovered “a prison that had declined significantly in almost every aspect.”
The report makes for harrowing reading. To give an insight into the prison, the watchdog reports that nearly 2,500 prisoners move in and out every month, with too few prisoners feeling safe in their first night; in the six months before the inspection, nearly 100 prisoners or staff had been assualted, while work to reduce violence was poorly resourced.
The report notes that “major structural changes in late 2013 had led to a significant reduction of resources. We were told that one consequence of this was that a large tranche of experienced staff had left very quickly and that this had been destabilising, not least because the prison had found it difficult to recruit replacements.”
We have highlighted in previous posts the embarrasment the government faced when it was revealed that the MoJ had tried to re-employ more than 2,000 prison officers who had taken voluntary redundancy, in order to attempt to avert the growing crisis in prisons, as the number of inmates has risen dramatically, while resources have dwindled.
Some further issues noted by the report were:
- Since the last inspection in 2011, six prisoners had taken their own lives and five of these tragedies occured in 2013. The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman had investigated some of these cases and made recommendations regarding self-harm and suicide prevention measures, but, shockingly, these were yet to be implemented.
- Too many prisoners at risk were held in “very poor conditions”, with a few subjected to extended lock up.
- The standard of communal areas and cells across the whole prison was very poor and in many cells unacceptably so. Toilets were often filthy and many cells had missing windows.
- Though the prison was beginning to implement a new programme for resettlement of offenders, many of the staff who should have been involved were diverted to other duties, and most staff were stretched in all of their duties.
- Low and medium risk offenders had little or no offender supervision, and there were “delays and backlogs in undertaking risk of harm assessments and sentence plans”. As worryingly, important decisions about the progress of prisoners were being taken without any of this work being done.
The report has as a central theme the hugely detrimental impact of a reduction in resources coupled with the loss of experienced staff, which has led to a serious safety risk for prisoners, particularly those at risk of self-harm, as well as a significant decline in environmental standards and access to activities. The further risk to public safety becomes clear, particularly in the impact upon resettlement activities.
The report – Report of an unannounced inspection at HMP Wormwood Scrubs by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, can be viewed here: http://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2014/09/Wormwood-scrubs-Web-2014.pdf
The following articles are also worth a read:
Travis, A. ‘Wormwood scrubs filthy, overcrowded and dilapidated – prisons watchdog‘, The Guardian, 3 September
‘HMP Wormwood Scrubs ‘filthy and unsafe’, according to report‘, BBC News, 3 September