July 19 2024
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‘Unsafe’ and ‘inhumane’ conditions at HMP Wandsworth

‘Unsafe’ and ‘inhumane’ conditions at HMP Wandsworth

A report by the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) has declared HMP Wandsworth to be an ‘unsafe’ and ‘inhumane’ environment.

Both staff and prisoners were found to be vulnerable to assault with incidents having increased by more than 20%. The report found there were more than 10 assaults on staff every week and that attacks on officers had increased by 25% with 1,048 recorded in one year. There were also 524 assaults reported to have been committed by prisoners against other inmates.

As discussed by the BBC, the report found that years of under-investment had led to an unsafe environment where ‘violence levels continue to rise’. The prison also had staff shortages and a high turnover with available staff often having limited experience. It was found the number of available officers rarely reached above 50%. The report concluded that ‘the shortage of resources – human, financial and physical – made it very difficult to operate a fully effective security regime.’

Members of the IMB carried out visits to the prison on 624 occasions throughout the year. As reported in the Guardian, they found that  the prison repeatedly had no heating or hot water during the winter months and cells were regularly flooded leaving inmates to endure several weeks without a full kit change. Furthermore, in two of the prison wings, there were only 11 shower stalls for 265 prisoners. Overcrowding was a significant problem with most men sharing stalls designed for single occupancy. The report also noted that prisoners had easy access to contraband, discussing the confiscation of more than 300 mobile phones and around five litres of illicitly brewed alcohol every day. Drones were being used to send goods over the prison walls.

The report’s release comes not long after the high-profile escape of one of the prison’s inmates, Daniel Khalife, on the 6th September 2023. Khalife was on remand after being charged with terrorism offences and reportedly escaped by strapping himself to the underside of a food delivery vehicle with bedsheets.

HMP Wandsworth was built in 1851 to accommodate 900 prisoners. However, the prison now holds 1,600 prisoners in a Victorian-era facility. Just last month, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Charlie Taylor, identified Wandsworth as one of the prisons that should be closed.

Mark Fairhurst, the national chair of the Prison Officers Association said that the government should be ‘embarrassed’ about the report, which details ‘unacceptable levels of violence and self-harm’ perpetuating ‘working and living conditions that nobody should have to endure.’

During an interview on BBC Radio 4, the national IMB Chair, Elisabeth Davies stated that ‘none of these issues are unique to Wandsworth and none of these issues are new.’ This, along with the recently released report into conditions at HMP Dartmoor, casts light on the failings of the UK prison system. Notably, a German court recently refused to extradite a man to the UK on the grounds that they were concerned about the poor conditions he would face in prison.

Tim Aikens, the IMB Chair at HMP Wandsworth said, ‘Recent events at Wandsworth have demonstrated the shortcomings of the prison system that the IMB has been highlighting repeatedly for many years. Prisoners are being failed and most have a severely reduced chance of rehabilitation upon release. We are told there is significant investment in the prison system, but we see little evidence of this in Wandsworth.’

The BBC reported that a spokesperson for HM Prison Service said that measures had been put in place to improve the conditions at Wandsworth. They mentioned that prison staffing had been increased and that more than £8m was being spent on new CCTV to improve security in the prison.

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