HMP Wandsworth – deterioration due to staff shortages and overcrowding

HM Prison Wandsworth
HM Prison Wandsworth

Overcrowding and severe staff shortages meant that almost every service at HMP Wandsworth was insufficient to meet the needs of the prison population, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the south London local prison.

HMP Wandsworth is a Victorian category B prison with a category C resettlement unit. It was unacceptably overcrowded. It held 1,630 adult men, more than any other in the UK, and almost 70% more than its certified normal accommodation of 963. The population had grown and changed since the prison’s last inspection in 2013. The prison had been designated a foreign national prisoner hub and held over 700 foreign nationals. The category B prisoners were typical of inner city local prisons, with a high incidence of mental health and substance abuse problems. Category C prisoners had needed work, education and training opportunities. Severe staffing shortages compromised the prison’s ability to meet the needs of either group. Since the last inspection, staffing levels had been reduced by about 100 across all grades. This was compounded by difficulty in recruiting and retaining staff.

Inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • despite the efforts of staff, processes to keep prisoners safe lacked resilience;
  • there had been four self-inflicted deaths since the last inspection and there were two further deaths in the months after the inspection, one an apparent homicide;
  • levels of self-harm were relatively low but the quality of support was inconsistent;
  • the excellent arrangements to identify, manage and reduce violence that inspectors found at the 2013 inspection had lapsed;
  • landings were unstaffed for long periods and this created potential for violence to take place unchallenged;
  • most prisoners were doubled up in small cells designed for one;
  • the third of prisoners who were unemployed usually spent 23 hours a day locked in their cells;
  • staff shortages meant association periods were restricted and inconsistent so prisoners were unable to use phones or showers;
  • health services had deteriorated, mainly because of staff shortages and there were unacceptably long delays in transferring men out to secure mental health facilities;
  • there were insufficient activity places for the population and attendance at those available was poor;
  • offender management was in disarray, with severe staff shortages and disorganisation creating a backlog of risk assessment and weaknesses in public protection arrangements; and
  • practical resettlement arrangements were very mixed.

However, inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • first night cells were generally well prepared and the prison relied heavily on a team of prisoner insiders to help new prisoners settle in;
  • security measures were proportionate and measures to restrict the supply of illegal drugs were more effective than comparable prisons;
  • the external environment was clean and in good repair, showing the efforts the prison was making; and
  • relationships between staff and prisoners were mostly courteous but staff shortages severely reduced the capacity of staff to interact with prisoners.

Nick Hardwick said:

“Overcrowding and severe staff shortages had led to deteriorating outcomes at HMP Wandsworth. It was not simply a matter of prisoners spending practically all day confined in shared cells the Victorians had designed for one – unacceptable though that was. Overcrowding, combined with severe staff shortages meant that almost every service was insufficient to meet the needs of the population.

“Managers and staff in the prison deserve credit for preventing the prison from deteriorating further, but it was not a surprise that some managers and staff were demoralised and others were clearly exhausted. Not all the problems at Wandsworth were a result of the population and resource pressures and this report identifies important areas the prison itself can and should address. Nevertheless, the Prison Service nationally will need to address the mismatch between a prison’s available resources and the size and needs of its population. Unless this is addressed, prisons will struggle to hold men safely and decently and to reassure the public that effective work has been done to reduce the risk that prisoners will reoffend and create more victims after release.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of the National Offender Management Service, said:
“This inspection took place at a time when staffing numbers at Wandsworth had dropped below budgeted levels because of a sharp unplanned increase in staff turnover. Action has been taken to support Wandsworth with additional staff from other Prison Service establishments and the gaol is now providing a limited but decent and consistent regime.

“As the Chief Inspector makes clear – there is more to do to achieve the level of purposeful activity and regime required to effectively support prisoners and help reduce reoffending. Recruitment of new staff is underway and we are determined to improve outcomes at Wandsworth both for prisoners and for the public over the coming 12 months. We will use the recommendations in this inspection report to support that process.”

Notes to editors:

1. Read the report.
2. HM Inspectorate of Prisons is an independent inspectorate, inspecting places of detention to report on conditions and treatment, and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public.
3. HMP Wandsworth is a category B local male prison with a category C resettlement unit.
4. This unannounced inspection was carried out from 23 February – 6 March 2015.
5. Please contact Barbara Buchanan (HMI Prisons) on 020 3681 2772 if you would like more information or to request an interview.

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