Wormwood Scrubs, the iconic West London jail, was found to be suffering from persistent and intractable failings, including high violence, drugs, chronic staff shortages and poor public protection work, according to a report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP).
The jail, holding more than 1,200 men, has been inspected three times in the last three-and-a-half years. Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the inspections in May 2014 and December 2015 raised “very serious concerns.”
The latest inspection, in July and August 2017, was announced and, Mr Clarke said, “we report again on the intractability and persistence of failure at this prison, notwithstanding the hard work of the governor and his staff to try to make some difference.”
There were a number of major concerns:
- The prison had high levels of often serious violence, resulting in some significant injuries. There had been a ‘dramatic’ increase in violence against staff, with more than 90 assaults in the six months to July. Despite efforts to tackle violence, 65% of prisoners said they had felt unsafe at some time and 36% felt unsafe at the time of the inspection. Drugs were very accessible.
- Too many men were locked up for significant periods of the day, some for as long as long as 23 hours. A total of 41% of prisoners were found to be locked in cells during the day.
- The prison struggled to provide decent conditions. Outside areas were strewn with litter, attracting rats and cockroaches. Some food serveries were left uncleaned, in an ‘appalling’ state.
- Far too many windows facing the perimeter wall were broken, which enabled prisoners to retrieve contraband thrown over the wall.
- Equality and diversity work had been neglected and was poor – in a jail with a 60% black and minority ethnic (BME) population.
- There were long delays in Carillion, a contractor, carrying out maintenance tasks, and the prison stores had not been open for many weeks, leaving staff to scavenge for many basic items needed by prisoners.
- Resettlement and offender management work was “fundamentally failing”, the report said, “and the prison was not meeting one of its key aims of supporting men to understand and address their offending behaviour and risk.” The quality of public protection work – assessing and managing the risk posed by prisoners on release – was also not good enough.
Some progress, however, had been made. Support for new prisoners in their early days had improved. Oversight of the use of force was better than previously and, while use of force was high, incidents looked at by inspectors were proportionate. The segregation unit also did reasonably well, with some very challenging men, and health care was reasonably good.
Staff were remarkably stoic despite the pressures they were under, Mr Clarke said. Pervasive staffing shortages – arising from recruitment problems and the loss of experienced staff – resulted in significant staff redeployment and a failure to deliver even basic services.
Mr Clarke said: “Overall, this was an extremely concerning picture, and we could see no justification as to why this poor situation had persisted since 2014. The governor and his team were, to their credit, working tirelessly to address the problems faced… This was commendable. But we were not confident that they could deliver improvement to outcomes without considerable additional external support. Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) must, in our view, engage with the governor and his team to develop a recovery plan.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “HMP Wormwood Scrubs has taken decisive action to reduce violence, and is working closely with Carillion to urgently improve conditions at the prison. We know staffing remains an issue, so we are recruiting 120 extra officers and will cut the time taken for new recruits to begin training. The addition of new, senior probation staff has also led to significant improvements in resettling offenders into the community following release. We are pleased inspectors recognised the hard work and dedication of staff at the prison, especially in improving education and purposeful activity.”