Violence at Pentonville increases as prison put into equivalent of ‘special measures’

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Violence at Pentonville increases as prison put into equivalent of ‘special measures’

A view of D wing at HMP Wandsworth Prison. Pic: Andy Aitchison

There has been an increase of almost one third in assaults on staff at HMP Pentonville over the last 12 months, according to the latest prison inspection. The chief inspector of prisons, Peter Clarke, said that he had found ‘little evidence of positive improvement’ with insufficient or no meaningful progress being made on 73% of the Inspectorate’s previous recommendations.

Inspectors considered HMP Pentonville to have made the ‘poorest progress’ in all of the reviews they had conducted to date. Violence had ‘once again risen’ at the Category B prison with an overall increase in incidents of 10% being reported. The review found that there were few incentives to motivate good behaviour and ‘too many adjudications for serious breaches of the rules were written off’. It was said that these failures on the part of the prison created a culture where violence and poor behaviour ‘could all too easily go unpunished’. Assaults on staff were up by 30%.

The Inspectorate also found that the prison’s response to investigations into self-inflicted deaths was ‘inadequate’ and support for prisoners in crisis was ‘poor’. The report warned of Pentonville’s ‘lacklustre’ approach to suicides. Since March 2015, 20 men have died at HMP Pentonville, 13 of those by suicide.

Prisons minister Lucy Frazer said that immediate action has been taken in response to the report, with a new governor of the prison being appointed and the offer of ‘intensive support’ through the Government’s new Prison Performance Support Programme (PPSP) being made. ‘I am confident this will stabilise the prison through additional staff, enhanced training and X-ray style security to reduce the illicit drugs which drive violence’, she continued.

The new PPSP schemehas been brought in to replace the ‘special measures’ term previously used in relation to failing prisons. In February 2020, HMP Pentonville and young offenders’ institution Feltham A joined Wormwood Scrubs, Bedford, Bristol and Hewell prisons on the Government’s overhaul list in their bid to provide more support to the system and increase prison safety.

In this most recent report, Peter Clarke stated that the solution to most issues Pentonville faced ‘was in the gift of the prison’, but it would need ‘a truly collaborative effort from all staff, clear leadership and support from Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service’ to make those changes. A further review of Pentonville’s conditions is due to be conducted by the Inspectorate in November of this year.