Prison inspectors have described a category B prison in South West London as ‘crumbling, overcrowded, and vermin-infested’. HMP Wandsworth has a capacity of 1,368 prisoners and is one of the most overcrowded prisons in the country and most inmates share cells built for one. If it was not for a decision to cut the number of prisoners by 300, the jail would have been ‘overwhelmed by its many challenges’, according to the inspectors.
Alongside the overpopulation, the report drew attention to the poor hygiene and sanitation present throughout the prisons facilities: outside areas were ‘strewn with rubbish’, some shower facilities were ‘awful’ and the inpatient mental health unit was ‘not a fit place for seriously unwell patients’.
It was noted that the prison had made some ‘impressive improvements’ such as to the legal visits area, which had been decorated with murals designed and painted by inmates. However, the report concluded that the infrastructure of the prison was in need of ‘a lot of work’.
The widespread effects of staff shortages were made clear in the report. Chief Prison Inspector, Charlie Taylor, described how ‘one group of prisoners from Trinity Unit, who came blinking into the sunlight, told me that it was the first time they had been outside for more than a week’. Others complained about sometimes going for weeks without access to the open air.
Owing to staff shortages, more than nine out of 10 of prisoners (91%) reported having less than two hours a day out of their cell on weekends, some getting as little as 45 minutes. This leaves many having to choose between exercise, ordering from the kiosk and using the showers.
There was also a shocking lack of educational services in the prison, with the education block sitting unused since the start of the pandemic. Education was found to be in the form of limited work packs.
Another major shortfall in the prison was services assisting foreign national prisoners with 37 prisoners being held over their tariff awaiting deportation decisions at the time of the inspection. It was found that home office staff were ‘not doing enough’ to support foreign national prisoners – a group that makes up just under half of the prison population.