The Independent Monitoring Board has deemed a men’s prison in south-west London as “unsafe and inhumane”, indicating persisting harmful conditions. HMP Wandsworth has borne the brunt of systemic failures, seeing no substantial improvement in the past year.
The Prison Service has asserted its commitment to address the grave issues identified, promising to take decisive action. The warning comes as part of a report by the IMB, which scrutinized the prison’s state from 1 June 2022 to 31 May 2023.
The IMB discovered that chronic underinvestment in infrastructure, resources, and personnel over the years has culminated in increasingly unsafe conditions, with escalating levels of violence. The board noted that staff inadequacy significantly hampered the prison’s operational effectiveness, as the number of functioning officers barely crossed the halfway mark.
Incidents of assault saw a surge of over 20% across all sectors, staff included. Out of the total 524 incidences of prisoner-on-prisoner assault, 301 were escalated to police intervention.
HMP Wandsworth, a Category B prison, was criticized by the IMB for its inhumane environment. The crumbling Victorian architecture compounded the problem. Overcrowding emerged as a key concern as well, with the majority of prisoners inhabiting shared cells originally designed for individual occupancy.
The prison’s severe lack of facilities was underscored by the fact that merely 11 shower stalls were available for 265 inmates in two of the wings.
IMB chair at HMP Wandsworth, Tim Aikens, heavily criticized the systematic failures in the prison infrastructure, stating, “Recent events at Wandsworth have demonstrated the shortcomings of the prison system that the IMB has been highlighting repeatedly for many years”.
He further asserted that the lack of substantial evidence of investment points to a bleak reality for prisoners’ potential for rehabilitation upon release.
Elisabeth Davies, the national IMB chair, noted that the issues prevalent at Wandsworth are manifestations of broader problems haunting Victorian-era prisons. She highlighted the overcrowding and understaffing issues faced by Pentonville in north London and suggested that the Wandsworth report could serve as a wake-up call for the wider prison estate.
Despite the multifaceted issues, HMP Wandsworth’s new healthcare centre, built with considerable investment, remains abandoned even a year post its scheduled inauguration.
Responding to the assessment, a spokesperson for HM Prison Service outlined measures taken, including a nearly 25% increase in frontline staffing over six years. The representative also pointed to an £8m investment in new CCTV, hardened gate security, and specialist personnel with dogs, along with essential repairs such as window replacements and roof mending.